Modified foods are everywhere and we all prefer them. I am, however, not talking about GMOs. No whining diatribes here (stage whisper: get over it).
No, in this case I’m talking about word modifiers. You know, descriptors: adjectives and their ilk. The way food is described has a big impact on its appeal.
Despite your insistence that it doesn’t affect you, it does.
We will approach this post with increasing levels of pretentiousness.
Let’s start with bacon (please!).
“Applewood Smoked Bacon” sounds delicious, and is possibly the most perfect meaningless descriptor since it conjures images of fruit and juiciness and wholesomeness but in reality is not detectable for most people*. Closely related is hickory smoked. Everyone smokes their bacon and hickory is the most commonly used wood. But you will buy either of these before you buy something called simply ‘smoked bacon’.
*According to Joseph Sebranek of Iowa State University, “most of us can’t tell much of a difference.”
Everyone in the food business plays these games. Restaurants use throwaway terms like farm fresh, handcrafted, artisan and slow-cooked to lend some authenticity to otherwise generic fare. ‘Crispy’ has more appeal than ‘fried’ and ‘poached’ sounds better than ‘boiled’.
And these modifiers can help the bottom line. Stanford’s Dan Jurafsky and colleagues studied 6,500 U.S. restaurant menus covering 650,000 dishes, and found that “every increase of one letter in the average length of words describing a dish is associated with an increase of 69 cents in the price of that dish.”
This article in the Daily Mail does a great job describing this phenomenon and explaining what’s going on – – essentially a fancier name is there simply to support a higher price. To absolutely no one’s surprise.
And this handy chart can help those of you who are thinking of opening up a restaurant.
Marketers would be well-advised to use descriptors to add that extra bit of specialness to their offerings. And not just food – just watch a few minutes of direct-response marketing to get a heavy dose of it.
Fancy modifiers, in addition to driving appeal, can also make a dish more socially acceptable. How else to explain that you’ll feel ok ordering ‘poutine’ on a first date but maybe not ‘gravy-drenched fries with cheese curds’?