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The Marketing Genius of Kale Chips

This post is part of a blogging series by marketing students at the Presidio Graduate School's MBA program. You can follow along here.

By Liz Krueger

I try to eat well - I really do.   I think about trying to eat food that’s good for me, sustainably produced and seasonal.  The fact is, it’s winter, and I’m not fond of bitter greens.  Kale, spinach, mustard greens and chard – not my thing.  I have some beautiful chard growing in my garden now, but haven’t fixed it.  I planted the chard because I hoped I’d feel compelled to harvest and cook it, and learn to like it.  So far, it’s a failed strategy.  The problem is, I don’t like it enough to take the time to cook it.

All is not hopeless, though.   Tastes change, and foods we hated as kids we can learn to like as adults.  I’ve learned that Brussels sprouts can be tasty, if they’re fresh, and depending on how they’re prepared.  Nothing like the slimy, smelly, bitter things I recall from childhood.   I do enjoy a good arugula salad, but seeing some sort of bitter greens described on a menu can make me choose a different entrée at a restaurant, unless the rest of the entrée is so yummy it makes me overlook the parts I don’t think I like.   Generally, I at least try the greens, and sometimes I discover they’re not so bad, as with the Brussels sprouts.

This is what good social marketers do all the time.  They make the benefits of a desired behavior attractive enough to outweigh the perceived costs. General Mills has used social marketing to advocate the benefits of whole grain in its products, emphasizing that a better diet can taste good.  More specifically, the Cheerios marketing plays on taste and health benefits and the importance of a heart-healthy lifestyle.  The Cheerios campaign also included cause marketing oriented towards women’s heart health.  The whole campaign is designed to get us to eat healthier (and Cheerios) by showing how much the benefits outweigh the costs.

So how do we apply these principles to marketing good food and healthy eating habits, and changing the way we eat?

For me, it’s pretty simple.   Foods I really want can get me to try something I don’t want.  As a kid, if I didn’t eat a little of whatever was being served for dinner, I didn’t get to have dessert.  Desserts were homemade and I particularly loved Mom’s cakes.  I ate what was being served, even if I didn’t like it (liver and onions, spinach, even sweetbreads), to get dessert.  My former roommate, however, was tougher.  She told me once that she sat at the table for hours, because she had been told she couldn’t leave the table until she’d eaten something she didn’t like.  Her parents finally gave up at bedtime.  Social marketers trying to get her to change would have to find the benefit that would incent her to try something new.   It’s why school garden programs are great.  Kids are interested enough in the process of growing and harvesting produce that their curiosity outweighs the “yuck” factor and they’ll taste foods they might not try otherwise.

That brings me to the genius of a recipe for kale chips.  It’s a simple recipe that turns kale into a crispy, oven-baked snack that even kids enjoy.  By emphasizing the chip-like quality, the recipe changes the balance of costs (bitter greens, time to cook them) versus benefits (crunchy, tasty snack).   Kale chips changes the cost/benefit equation enough for me to eat the kale.   I also just saw a recipe for pesto made with chard that might be worth a try.  What can change the healthy eating equation for you?

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