How Scientists Get You to Love Junk Food

Cadbury, Kraft, Frito-Lay hire the experts

By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 24, 2013 3:30 PM CST

(Newser) – The makers of American junk food have your personal taste—but not your personal health—down to an exact science, the New York Times Magazine reports. With Americans plagued by obesity and type 2 diabetes, companies like Cadbury Schweppes, Kraft, and Frito-Lay are hiring experts to conduct lengthy studies on a product's marketability, "bliss point," and "mouth feel"—all to sell you more food stuffed with sugar, fat, and salt. Among the Times' findings:

  • With Dr Pepper sales declining, Cadbury Schweppes turned to Howard Moskowitz, a food-industry expert known for "optimizing" products. His 135-page report analyzed sodas for their "mouth feel" (how the drink "interacts" with your mouth) and "bliss point" (of ideal sugar intake). His study led to the wildly successful Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper.
  • Oscar Meyer reacted to declining meat sales in the 1980s by studying consumers—and learned that moms wanted more time in the morning. This led to pre-made lunches of meat, processed cheese, and crackers called "Lunchables" that flew off the shelves. Adding more sugar, they released "Lunchables With Dessert" and the appropriately-named "Maxed Out," containing up to nine grams of saturated fat. "If you take Lunchables apart, the most healthy item in it is the napkin," says a former Philip Morris CEO.
  • After failing with several new products, Frito-Lay combed through consumer data and realized that hurried baby boomers were eating snacks as meal replacements. "This is a category that has huge growth potential," said a Frito-Lay marketer. So the company released Lays in new flavors and sodium-packed pita chips. The pita chips were a huge hit.
  • On the bright side, Finland found a solution to its heavy salt intake: labeling high-salt foods with a "High Salt Content" warning. The country's salt consumption eventually fell by a third, and fatal strokes and heart disease by 75% to 80%.
  • The Times found veterans of the junk-food industry who are seeking change. Former Coca-Cola executive Jeffrey Dunn is now helping executives promote a food product in a junk-food style to Americans who love munching on snacks. The product: baby carrots. "I'm paying my karmic debt," he says.
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Experts work hard to make us love potato chips.
Experts work hard to make us love potato chips.   (Shuttestock)
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