How the aroma of food can affect your health
One way to stimulate your appetite is through the aroma of food. Marketers have been strategically using ambient smells to attract customers and stimulate particular sales in various service settings such as retail stores, supermarkets, hotels, restaurants, cafeterias, planes and in stadiums and arenas. So, how do these ambient smells affect purchasing and consumption behaviour?
Extended exposure to an indulgent food-related ambient smell (eg cookies) of more than two minutes leads to a reduced purchase of unhealthy foods compared to exposure to a non-indulgent scent (eg strawberry scent) or no smell at all.
Researchers from the University of South Florida College of Business conducted a series of laboratory experiments, three field studies at a supermarket and at a middle school cafeteria. The researchers used an inconspicuous nebuliser that separately gave off scents of healthy and unhealthy food items (cookies vs strawberries, pizza vs apples).
The researchers found a direct relationship between the length of exposure to a scent and whether or not one will indulge in unhealthy foods. The overall results of all the experiments demonstrate that extended exposure to an indulgent food-related ambient smell (eg cookies) of more than two minutes leads to a reduced purchase of unhealthy foods compared to exposure to a non-indulgent scent (eg strawberry scent) or no smell at all. The researchers propose that this effect takes place due to the cross-modal sensory compensation, where prolonged exposure to indulgent foods satisfies the reward circuitry of the brain, which in turn reduced the need to consume indulgent foods and thus leads to the reduced purchase of unhealthy foods. The effects were reversed with brief exposure of fewer than 30 seconds where exposure to the smell of cookies is more likely to lead to a desire for cookies. But exposure to the smell of cookies for more than two minutes lead participants to picked strawberries instead. The same results were seen when pizza and apples were tested.
The results show that since non-indulgent foods do not give off many ambient smells, they are typically not connected to rewards and therefore will not influence what you order. However, when it comes to indulgent foods and their ambient smells, exposure to their aroma for a short period of time can influence you to order unhealthy foods.
Source: Journal of Marketing Research
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