Do consumers see ‘pretty’ food as healthier?

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Published in the Journal of Marketing​, the study​ ​authored by Linda Hagen, a researcher from the University of Southern California, exposed that food aesthetics – specifically, prettier food following classical aesthetics principles (i.e. symmetry, order, and systematic patterns found in nature) – convey healthiness and naturalness to the consumer compared to “ugly”​ food that does not follow these same aesthetic principles.

The findings are significant because, as Hagen notes, beautiful or ‘pretty’ aesthetics are closely associated with pleasure and indulgence.

“This link with pleasure might make pretty food seem unhealthy, because people tend to view pleasure and usefulness as mutually exclusive. For instance, many people have the general intuition that food is either tasty or healthy, but not both,”​ she said.

On the other hand, Hagen adds, a specific type of aesthetics called “classical” ​aesthetics is characterized by the ideal patterns (e.g. symmetry) found in nature and when expressed in food styling through nature-like visual depictions may make food seem more natural to the consumer.

“Seeming more natural, in turn, may make the food seem healthier because people tend to consider natural things (e.g., organic food or natural remedies) to be healthier than unnatural things (e.g., highly processed food or synthetic chemicals),”​ she explained.

Study methods

For the study, 400 panelists in the US (54% women) were randomly assigned to evaluate the healthiness (calories, fat, and nutrients) of the same type of food in its ‘pretty’ and ‘ugly’ presentation.

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