Food Naming: How it affects food consumption

how labels impact how we eat

The naming of what we eat by the person who prepares it ultimately affects what we choose to eat. This simplified, yet accurate conclusion is practically the essence of the MIT University Laboratory’s research on food systems and new food trends: How labels impact the way we eat.

In fact, changing views of what is happening and what lies ahead is a sign of the times in the modern world in all sectors. The food sector follows the modern trend in the field of semiotics and terminology, but the interesting thing is that it advances solutions, which pave the way for the future of the industry. One example, the MIT research found, is that the mere phrases “climate change” and “increased carbon dioxide emissions” that directly affect the “greenhouse effect” automatically turn the majority of consumers to behave in a certain way: To reduce overall meat consumption.

The terms vegan and vegetarian are now considered polarizing – Global consumer audience choses flexibility.

It seems that in the new era the term flexitarian is constantly gaining ground: the new way to go is ” I eat everything, but I don’t overdo it with meat.” After all, doctors and nutritionists never said that there is such a thing as “bad food”, only “bad use of food”. It seems that we are leaving behind the era of very specific terminology: Now the terms vegetarian and vegan seem very binding and polarizing for the general consumer public: “Why should I eat something vegan if I’m not vegan?”. This is where the new verbal orientation of food can help: Companies need to get to the point where they are no longer afraid of new variations of expressions and features that represent the current food trends followed by consumers.

Indeed, the MIT research showed that the phrase “Greek salad” almost doubled consumers who chose it in two consecutive experiments over the terms “vegan salad” or “vegetarian salad”: 60.7%, compared to just 36% in the first experiment and 63.8%; compared to 33.9% in the second.

On top of that, it is widely accepted that the word “Greek” has been upgraded in the overall global food community because it has become inextricably linked with the “Mediterranean diet”, which has also been significantly upgraded in the minds of the global consumer audience.

But this was not always the case: during the decades of the 1980s and 1990s, the word Greek was intrinsically linked with fats, mainly due to moussaka, souvlaki, and even the evaporated milk added to Greek frappe coffee. Today, when considering the name “Greek salad”, most people tend to omit from their general perception of the particular food the fat in feta, key ingredient in the “choriatiki” salad, the Greek salad “par excellence”.

The word “Greek” gives added value to the connotation of fresh, healthy and above all flexible, and is no more linked to the concept of ethnic food, in the sense the food of a specific cuisine. Regardless of the use of the term “Greek”, the MIT research also suggested the prioritization that the word “sustainable” has received in the minds of the global consumer public.

This is no news to the food industry: ever more consumers worldwide are interested in choosing a way of eating which is sustainable for the environment and more specifically, respecting the terms of sustainability (and cost) of every food they consume. The simpler a food, the more acceptable it is, in more markets worldwide. According to food industry specialists, it would not be a groundless thought to say that there will be massive withdrawals of codes from companies’ codebooks in the near future. Companies are bound to rethink the character of the food they offer for sale on the shelves.

(Source: MIT Media Lab)