The veil of ignorance is being lifted, however, by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has decided to require calorie counts for prepared food, not just at movie theaters but also at amusement parks, restaurant chains, and grocery stores, as well as from large vending machine operators.
Leveraging arguments from economics, some have questioned whether more nutritional information is better. For instance, the new ruling clearly will impose added costs on businesses that are required to comply. Another economic argument dealing with the notion of “lost pleasure” is less intuitive but even more interesting . . .
If people see that a large tub of movie theater popcorn contains as many as 1,200 calories (a huge portion of a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet), they may forgo the popcorn, or whatever other prepared food they were planning to eat, which would result in reduced pleasure, or in economic terms, a “loss of consumer surplus.” Some have estimated that this lost pleasure could total $5.27 billion over 20 years.
Of course, the FDA is not a marketer but a regulator of marketers. Still, it’s important to ask whether the FDA ruling will result in more Mindful Marketing. Despite what the preceding arguments suggest, the overall, long-term answer is “yes.”
When it comes to making purchase decisions, having more information is almost always better for consumers than having less information. In the case of deciding which food to eat in a restaurant, movie theater, etc., publishing calorie counts can’t hurt. If people want to ignore that information, they can. Otherwise, they can decide whether or not they want to sacrifice some short-term pleasure for other long-term benefits.
Will the FDA requirement lead people to eat less high calorie food? It probably will. Will people also eat less food overall? Probably not, or at least not that much less. Instead we’ll be looking for new food options that are lower in calories and still taste good, i.e., the best of both. The end result should be a positive influence on our society’s health, as well as new opportunities and incentives for innovative food producers to practice more Mindful Marketing.