McMarketing: Kid taste tests have startling results

Taste tested: Is this the ultimate kids taste treat -- a Quarterpounder laced with McNuggets? A new study has found that little kids have strong impressions about fast food's quality. (Flickr photo by Slice)
Taste tested: Is this the ultimate kids taste treat -- a Quarterpounder laced with McNuggets? A new study has found that little kids have strong impressions about fast food's quality. (Flickr photo by Slice)
After seeing the movie “Supersize Me” I’ve made a conscious effort to reduce my visits to McDonald’s and other fast food outlets. Presenting with that overpowering evidence, I was able to make a decision to make fast food a much smaller portion of my diet.

But what about kids who haven’t developed critical thinking skills or the factual data to come to the same conclusion? The results of a new study show that most kids have views that are very skewed toward wanting fast foods.

Conducted at Stanford University, the taste test had kids ages 3 to 5 enrolled in Head Start programs sample various foods. Some were packaged in McDonald’s wrappers some were not. Nearly anything that the kids thought was made by McDonald's – even carrots or apple juice – was deemed tastier by the kids than the non-McDonalds sample.

The study findings come out just about a month after many major food corporations announced that they were backing off on their marketing efforts to kids. Still, researchers comment, the sales pitches of the past have had a huge impact on little consumers.

Here’s how the study worked: A group of 63 kids sampled three McDonald's menu items — hamburgers, chicken nuggets and French fries — and store-bought milk or juice and carrots. Children got two identical samples of each food on a tray, one in McDonald's wrappers or cups and the other in plain, unmarked packaging. The kids were asked if they tasted the same or if one was better. (Some children didn't taste all the foods.)

McDonald's-labeled samples were the clear favorites. French fries were the biggest winner; almost 77% said the labeled fries tasted best while only 13% preferred the others.

Fifty-four percent preferred McDonald's-wrapped carrots versus 23% who liked the plain-wrapped sample.

The only results not statistically clear-cut involved the hamburgers, with 29 kids choosing McDonald's-wrapped burgers and 22 choosing the unmarked ones.

McDonald’s recently announced that it will begin promoting Happy Meals to kids that contain fruit and have lower calories and fat.

An independent critic of the study pointed out that a different comparison should have been made on kids’ brand-name product identification.

A better comparison might have been to gauge kids’ preferences for McDonald’s items vs. Disney products or some other kid-friendly brand, said Pradeep Chintagunta of the University of Chicago. “I don't think you can necessarily hold this against McDonald's,” he said, since the goal of marketing is to build familiarity and sell products, adding that parents play a large role in the food choices kids make at that age.

What do you think? Is this evidence that McDonald’s and other fast-food franchises are exploiting kids? Will a new self-monitored marketing emphasis by fast-food outlets make a difference? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Would you happen to know the title and author/s of the original article on the study? I'ld like to read the article myself because my friend brought a point about which I'm now interested. She has read articles about studies in which the combination of red and yellow cause people to salivate more and become hungry, trademark colors in McDonalds and many other fast-food joints wrappers, if the unmarked wrappers were white or something along those lines it would be interesting to see how much that may have affected the children's decisions.

posted on Wed, 08/15/2007 - 3:05pm
Aby's picture
Aby says:

Eating lots of junks foods from KFC and McDonald's is the primary reason for the health disorders like obesity. The youth is addicted to these junk foods and only at the later stages they realize the side effects of it.

posted on Tue, 04/01/2014 - 4:41am

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