McDonalds "tastes better" when kids can see packaging: study
It now official: McDonalds fast food tastes better when presented in its original packaging than when in generic packaging. At least according to this Stanford University study "where 63 preschool children aged between 3 and 5 tasted 5 pairs of packages of the same McDonald's food and drinks.
One of the pair in each case bore the McDonald's brand, while the other was unbranded, in plain packages."
Altogether the children performed over 300 tasting comparisons.
The food that the children tasted was: a quarter of a McDonald's hamburger, a Chicken McNugget, some McDonald's french fries, and two baby carrots.
The drink they tasted was about three ounces of 1 per cent fat milk, or apple juice in the case of one participant who was not allowed milk.
The parents then filled out a questionnaire about their children's age, race and ethnicity, and how familiar they were with McDonald's food and toys and also about their television viewing habits and preferences.
The results showed that:
- On average, the children preferred the taste of the food and drink in the McDonald's packaging over the identical products in unmarked packaging.
- The result for hamburgers was 48.3 per cent vs. 36.7 per cent.
- For chicken nuggets the result was 59 per cent vs. 18 per cent.
- For baby carrots the result was 54.1 per cent vs. 23 per cent.
- For french fries the result was 76.7 per cent vs. 13.3 per cent.
- For milk or apple juice the result was 61.3 per cent vs. 21 per cent.
- Futher analysis showed that 4 out of 5 times, children preferred the taste of food and drink that they thought was from McDonald's.
- Preschool children who had more TV sets in their homes, and children who ate McDonald's foods more frequently were also more likely to prefer McDonald's branded food and drink to the identical unbranded items.
Here is the abstract from the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine:
Objective To examine the effects of cumulative, real-world marketing and brand exposures on young children by testing the influence of branding from a heavily marketed source on taste preferences.
Design Experimental study. Children tasted 5 pairs of identical foods and beverages in packaging from McDonald's and matched but unbranded packaging and were asked to indicate if they tasted the same or if one tasted better.
Setting Preschools for low-income children.
Participants Sixty-three children (mean ± SD age, 4.6 ± 0.5 years; range, 3.5-5.4 years).
Main Exposure Branding of fast foods.
Outcome Measures A summary total taste preference score (ranging from –1 for the unbranded samples to 0 for no preference and +1 for McDonald's branded samples) was used to test the null hypothesis that children would express no preference.
Results The mean ± SD total taste preference score across all food comparisons was 0.37 ± 0.45 (median, 0.20; interquartile range, 0.00-0.80) and significantly greater than zero (P<.001), indicating that children preferred the tastes of foods and drinks if they thought they were from McDonald’s. Moderator analysis found significantly greater effects of branding among children with more television sets in their homes and children who ate food from McDonald's more often.
Conclusion Branding of foods and beverages influences young children's taste perceptions. The findings are consistent with recommendations to regulate marketing to young children and also suggest that branding may be a useful strategy for improving young children's eating behaviors.