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Welcome to the continuing diary series "Let's Read a WHEE Book Together!" This week, we're continuing with David Kessler's The End of Overeating, Chapter 21. If you're just discovering this diary series, you will find links to the previous installments at the bottom of this diary.

WHEE (Weight, Health, Eating and Exercise) is a community support diary for Kossacks who are currently or planning to start losing, gaining or maintaining their weight through diet and exercise or fitness. Any supportive comments, suggestions or positive distractions are appreciated. If you are working on your weight or fitness, please -- join us! You can also click the WHEE tag to view all diary posts.

The End of Overeating, by David Kessler, M.D.
Chapter 21: The Ladder of Irresistibility

In Chapter 19, Kessler asserted:

...the food industry doesn't merely design products and send them forth hoping consumers will buy them. It engages in an elaborate process of "reverse engineering" to figure out exactly what we'll like.

But how, exactly, is that done?

In Chapter 21, Kessler discusses presentations given by a number of speakers at the Pangborn Sensory Science Symposium in Harrogate (a town in England originally famous for its mineral water spas, and now popular as a business conference location). Although Kessler doesn't say so, the Pangborn Symposium is a gathering named after Rose Marie Pangborn, the pioneer of sensory science, and takes place every two years in a different location. In fact, the one mentioned in Overeating was actually the 6th installment, and took place back in 2005 (this latter fact is noted in the footnotes).

Kessler introduces Michele Foley, Frito-Lay food scientist, whose Pangborn Symposium speech is titled "Simply Irresistible--understanding high levels of satisfaction and what it means." Given that The End of Overeating deals with "addictive" foods, it's easy to understand that Kessler finds this speech, well, irresistible.

According to Foley, sensory stimulation plus caloric stimulation equals food pleasure. To better understand what makes a food "irresistible," Foley surveyed a couple thousand (!) loyal Frito-Lay consumers and asked them to choose words that described their opinions of their favorite Frito-Lay snacks. The two products most frequently described as "irresistible" were Nacho Cheese Doritos and Cheetos Flamin' Hot. After getting these thousands of surveys, Foley organized a consumer panel to further analyze the components of irresistibility, including factors such as flavor complexity, intensity, and timing of flavor release, as well as texture and the way the food mass is transformed during chewing.

Foley further analyzed the panel's findings and ultimately pinpointed five key influences on irrestibility. In order of importance, they are: calories, flavor bits, ease of eating, meltdown, and early hit. "Those are the attributes that drive cravings for you to eat," she said.

As Kessler noted in Chapter 19, food scientists like Foley aren't just predicting what customers will like. In Foley's words, "It's about being sure."

The text further quotes Foley as rhetorically asking,

"How do we really engineer this stuff into our products?

However, Kessler does not detail how this is done at Frito-Lay. No doubt Michele Foley kept to generalities in her Pangborn presentation, rather than giving away trade secrets.

After spending four pages on Foley's speech, Kessler takes three paragraphs to discuss food industry consultant Howard Moskowitz. After researching Moskowitz for this WHEE diary, I find this division of attention puzzling. As a consultant (rather than a kept scientist like Foley), it's in Moskowitz's interest to let people what he does and how he does it (in a general sense). You can read his book, his company's Web site, and even his LinkedIn page. And perhaps most interestingly, you can read what Malcolm Gladwell had to say in the New Yorker back in 2004:

Prego was in a slump, and Campbell's was desperate for new ideas.

Standard practice in the food industry would have been to convene a focus group and ask spaghetti eaters what they wanted.  But Moskowitz does not believe that consumers—even spaghetti lovers—know what they desire if what they desire does not yet exist...Instead, working with the Campbell's kitchens, he came up with forty-five varieties of spaghetti sauce.  These were designed to differ in every conceivable way: spiciness, sweetness, tartness, saltiness, thickness, aroma, mouth feel, cost of ingredients, and so forth.  He had a trained panel of food tasters analyze each of those varieties in depth.  Then he took the prototypes on the road—to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Jacksonville—and asked people in groups of twenty-five to eat between eight and ten small bowls of different spaghetti sauces over two hours and rate them on a scale of one to a hundred.  When Moskowitz charted the results, he saw that everyone had a slightly different definition of what a perfect spaghetti sauce tasted like.  If you sifted carefully through the data, though, you could find patterns, and Moskowitz learned that most people's preferences fell into one of three broad groups: plain, spicy, and extra-chunky, and of those three the last was the most important.  Why? Because at the time there was no extra-chunky spaghetti sauce in the supermarket.  Over the next decade, that new category proved to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Prego.  "We all said, 'Wow!' " Monica Wood, who was then the head of market research for Campbell's, recalls.  "Here there was this third segment—people who liked their spaghetti sauce with lots of stuff in it—and it was completely untapped.  So in about 1989-90 we launched Prego extra-chunky.  It was extraordinarily successful."

[You can also watch Gladwell talking about Moskowitz's research on pickles, Prego, and Diet Pepsi at the 2004 TED conference. There's a particularly funny bit at 6:13 - and comments about coffee at 10:36 that relate directly to material in Chapter 20 of The End of Overeating - Ed]

Although Kessler does note that Moskowitz studied Prego spaghetti sauce, The End Of Overeating gives no indication of Moskowitz's impact on the food industry. The three paragraphs in Chapter 21 are the only mentions of Moskowitz in the entire book, according to the book's index. Perhaps Kessler is the victim of an overzealous editor at Rodale Press. Or perhaps the food industry forced him to delete the really interesting stuff - this may be the blood-red hand of Big Tomato at work.

After the short section on Moskowitz, Kessler discusses the Pangborn Symposium presentation from two Dutch researchers for Unilever, Wilma den Hoed and E.H. Zandstra, who said:

For product developers, it is of interest to add elements to a food that make a food highly desired and liked, both initially and over repeated consumption.

The emphasized phrase [emphasis mine - Ed] speaks directly to Michele Foley's work at Frito-Lay as well.

den Hoed and Zandstra's study concluded

...over the long term, consumers continue to buy foods that are associated with two features: "Unique sensory attributes...and learned characteristics related to positive mood change."

And with that, Kessler concluded Chapter 21.

Previous chapters from The End of Overeating:

Part 2: The Food Industry
Chapter 20: What Consumers Don't Know (reviewed by Clio2)
Chapter 19: Giving Them What They Like (reviewed by me)
Chapter 18: No Satisfaction (reviewed by Clio2)
Chapter 17: The Era of the Monster Thickburger (reviewed by me)
Chapter 16: That's Entertainment (reviewed by Clio2)
Chapter 15: Cinnabon: A Lesson in Irresistibility (reviewed by me)
Chapter 14: A Visit to Chili's (reviewed by Clio2)

Part 1: Sugar, Fat, and Salt

Chapter 13: Eating Behavior Becomes a Habit (reviewed by me)
(there are links to Chapters 1 through 12 in my Chapter 13 review)

Scheduled WHEE Diaries
November 8
    Sun AM - louisev Turtle Diary
    Sun PM - ???

November 9
    Mon AM - NC Dem
    Mon PM - ???

November 10
    Tues AM - ???
    Tues PM - Clio2 (Kessler, Ch. 22)

November 11

    Weds AM - ???
    Weds PM - Edward Spurlock - Geek My Fitness: "He's the DJ, I'm the Rider"

November 12
    Thurs AM - ???
    Thurs PM - juliewolf

November 13
    Fri AM - ???
    Fri PM - ???

November 14
    Sat AM - ???
    Sat PM - Edward Spurlock (Kessler, Ch. 23)

Originally posted to Edward Spurlock on Sat Nov 07, 2009 at 08:20 PM PST.


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