Instead of having to choose between healthy and unhealthy food options, a “vice-virtue” combination could satisfy both impulses, say researchers.
The idea isn’t to totally give up foods that are tasty but not nutritious. Instead, the focus should be on lowering the portion of the “vice” foods and correspondingly raising the portion of a healthy food to replace it.
In a series of experiments, the researchers found that people have a “taste-health balance point”—a proportion of vice and virtuous foods that make up one serving—that they find satisfactory.
For most, the perfect vice-virtue bundle is made up of a small (1/4) to medium (1/2) portion of vice. So if a vice-virtue bundle was made up of fries and slices of apple, it might take a small or very small serving of fries to satiate the need for the vice food.
On the Menu
In the food service industry, vice-virtue bundles could be a good way to get consumers to choose healthy food options, according to Kelly L. Haws, associate professor of management at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management.
“Given that consumers consistently find vice-virtue bundles to be attractive, managers should consider adding vice-virtue bundles to their product lines,” Haws says.
“For restaurants and food vendors that already offer pure vice and virtue options, vice-virtue bundles provide an opportunity for product line expansion through existing items rather than through development of completely new offerings.
“This provides a potential opportunity for cost-savings, as many food establishments devote considerable resources to developing new product offerings, which can in turn increase inventory or production costs.”
This round of research did not mix in any pricing or marketing components, but the researchers say it would be easy for restaurants to pursue such experiments on their own.
“With the right marketing and the right choice sets, we believe that vice-virtue bundles offer exciting directions for future research and practice aimed at maximizing health without compromising tastes,” the researchers conclude. Their paper about the findings is under review for publication.
Coauthors of the study contributed from Fuqua School of Business at Duke University and the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh.