Friday, 30 September 2016

Eat Well for Less

I am fascinated by Eat Well For Less, an undemanding BBC1 television programme in which Gregg Wallace (him from Masterchef) and Chris Bavin (who I’ve not seen before) show how a family can save money from their weekly shop. Usually the advice works along the lines of buy own-brand labels, and don’t buy prepared food, and the results can often be a saving of 60-70 each week.

I’m not always sure how much they really save. Sometimes in order to make the savings as shown, the families need to shop at four different supermarkets - clearly that’s unlikely to happen (you’d spend more on petrol than you would save).

But I’m mainly interested in the taste tests. Most of the time, it turns out that the families cannot tell the difference between branded food and own-brand food. And it turns out that they can save a significant amount of money by swapping from Coke to a supermarket’s own brand.


Studies have shown that there’s more to our perception (including taste) than just the taste sensation. Pepsi beats Coke in a blind taste test, but Coke beats Pepsi when people know what they are drinking.

From what I can tell, nobody is exactly sure why. I’ve seen a couple of theories. One theory suggests that Pepsi is slightly sweeter than Coke, which helps it in the taste tests. But that extra sweetness is its undoing in the long run as most people don’t want to guzzle litres of something very sweet.

However, I think my preferred theory is more about identity (and marketing). When you drink a Coke, you are buying into the Coke ideal, as promoted in all those sun-kissed adverts filled with beautiful people. Drinking a Coke makes you feel good, more so than drinking a Pepsi.

(Other research shows that branded painkillers are more effective than unbranded pain-killers, so there’s clearly some cognitive dissonance going on somewhere. This seems to be related to the placebo effect that puzzled me recently.)

Which is why I think that it’s harder to give up something like Coke, if that’s what you drink. It would be like giving up on your identity.

I suspect the link is less strong for something like canned tomatoes.

I’d be really interested to see Eat Well For Less revisit the families to see what the long-term changes are, but I’ve a feeling that’s outside the scope of the programme.

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