Life Times Newsletter

November/December 2002
Vol. 4, No. 6

Shrink holiday expenditures with consumer psychology

Anticipating holiday hordes? Stocking up for incoming house guests, making food gifts or just feeling celebratory? The holidays stimulate all manner of non-typical buying that can put the household budget in a spin for months.

Getting a handle on food dollars can be especially helpful this time of year. But does that mean stocking up at the warehouse membership club and buying those super-size packages to get the best unit price? Not necessarily, according to Brian Wansink, PhD.

Dr. Wansink’s Food & Brand Lab, a series of test kitchens and cooperating grocery stores, studies how consumers "choose and use" brands, particularly packaged goods. And while he may be sought after by large food corporations, Dr. Wansink is quick to point out that his research is just as helpful to the consumer. "Anything that can work for the manufacturer can also work for the consumer. I orient to the consumer," he says.

Dr. Wansink’s research on a wide variety of food and household products shows that we just tend to eat up the savings when items are in large packages–from 18 percent to 40 percent more! Study after study, the behavior holds true for everything from M&M’s to laundry detergent. We only seem to be dose conscious about medicine and bleach, items we know could cause harm in the wrong amount.

In one study, Dr. Wansink and crew passed out free popcorn to movie-goers in medium and large buckets. The popcorn eaters did not realize each bucket had been weighed. Yet when the researchers collected the buckets after the show, those with the large buckets had eaten 40 percent more than those with the medium buckets.

Given the popcorn example, it is not too hard to see how subdividing food into smaller serving bowls would be useful to waist-watchers. The principle of measuring or re-portioning into smaller containers also saves money on food and household products all over the house, all year long. Super-size jugs and bottles are difficult to lift and pour just the right amount. Extra rarely gets poured back. Sometimes unused product goes bad before it is used, eliminating savings.

Here are some tips from Dr. Wansink's research to help keep the lid on holiday food costs:

Cynthia Fauser, MS, RD, LD
Nutrition Specialist

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University of Missouri Extension Editor: Roxanne T. Miller