Lindsay Watts, MS, RDN
Food is central to many of our memories and is an important part of our emotional health. Every time I smell mushrooms and onions sautéing, I think of sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen. When I’m stressed at the end of a work day, I want spaghetti with Prego® Traditional Italian sauce or pork chops simmered in Campbell’s® Cream of Mushroom soup because it reminds me of how my working mom cared for me even on the most chaotic nights. These foods represent moments in my life when I was cared for and loved by the people closest to me. As leaders in health and nutrition, it’s important to consider the emotions wrapped up in food and take time to understand their context. I interviewed experts throughout Campbell to explore the role of nostalgia in a consumer’s life and how the food industry and health professionals alike can honor food traditions and find a place for them.
Slow and Steady Change
Some of the products in the Campbell portfolio, like Campbell’s® Tomato soup have been in the marketplace for over 120 years. Generations of people have come to expect a certain taste, appearance, and experience with our products. Over time, recipes need to be updated as ingredient suppliers and manufacturing technologies change. Judith Trevino, Senior Scientist on Campbell’s Research and Development team shares how she approaches recipe changes for iconic products as a food scientist.
“Any change in a recipe requires careful scrutiny. We only adjust one ingredient at a time and constantly compare it against the current recipe in the market. Our trained, internal taste panel evaluates changes to recipes and we collect consumer feedback as we update recipes to make sure the product still meets or exceeds their expectations. Once we’ve made each change separately, we combine the changes that we think are necessary and tweak the recipe from there. Everything about the food matters—taste, appearance, aroma, and more. Together, these elements create a consumer experience, which can be quite emotional. Our brands have been part of family recipes and traditions for 150 years, so we take that responsibility very seriously.”
Perspective on Practice: Health professionals are trained to help people make small, gradual changes over time. This approach is especially important when addressing a behavior or experience where there is a strong emotional attachment. Like a food scientist adjusting a product recipe, we should be thoughtful about health recommendations and avoid changing too much at one time.
Insights experts are essentially professional listeners. They know how to ask the right questions to get to the true motivator for a consumer. I asked Victoria Offutt, Insights Associate Manager, for her guidance on how insights professionals listen to consumers to better understand their emotions and motivations behind food choices. “We typically start by observing the general conversation around a food topic or behavior. At this point, we just watch and read what people communicate online or in the media. Then, we might conduct a series of focus groups and even one on one sessions or in-home interviews to collect more in-depth qualitative information.”
“When we do interviews, we make it clear that we are not an expert on a topic to avoid seeming authoritative and to help us keep the tone non-judgmental and conversational. We often ask for specific stories instead of generalities and follow up with probing questions to learn more about why someone does something. In the end, we validate this qualitative data with a larger scale quantitative survey to confirm our understanding.
Perspective on Practice: Health professionals can learn from insights professionals in how they communicate with their clients. Of course, when you have a client, you’ll automatically be positioned as an expert on a topic, but it will be important to recognize that your client is an expert on their own experience. Ask open ended questions, avoid judgement and listen to everything your client says with curiosity. Seek information on the client’s different emotional connections with food and keep asking why until you get to an emotional statement or motivator for the client.
Consider the Occasion, Not Just the Food
The emotional connection a consumer has to a food and the role it plays in their life can vary greatly from person to person and moment to moment. What a person expects on Thanksgiving from their recipes is likely very different from what they expect on a typical weeknight. Sheila Miller, Senior Manager for Campbell’s Consumer Test Kitchen shares how our experts approach recipe development with emotion and life circumstances in mind:
“The consumer is central to every recipe we develop in our test kitchen, so we need to have a strong understanding of what their lives are like and what their pain points are when it comes to meal preparation. We aim to develop recipes that align with the home cook’s resources and life circumstances, so we can minimize the challenges of meal preparation and allow families more time to connect and create memories around a delicious homemade meal. For example, in our new recipe collection developed for Campbell’s® Condensed Vegetable Cooking Soups, we created popular comfort food recipes that are easy to prepare that help deliver better vegetable nutrition in the recipes consumers love. Other recipes, like many of those made with Campbell’s® Healthy Request® Condensed soups, help home cooks make healthier versions of their favorite recipes.”
Perspective on Practice: It’s important to understand clients and their attachment to certain foods or behaviors at different moments in their life. Not only do you need to understand the occasion, but it’s also essential to know what the food means to them in different scenarios. When is a food emotional vs. functional? Is the person’s budget or time constraints an issue in one circumstance but not the other? Do the changes you suggest feel attainable for them? These questions can help guide when you should leave a food tradition alone and when you have more flexibility to provide a new solution that can meet their health and well-being goals.
We need to acknowledge the strong connection between food and emotions to be successful as health professionals. Food industry experts from all fields are pros in putting the consumer first and can serve as inspiration for how health professionals can apply these skills to their practice. By introducing small changes, one at a time, clients feel less overwhelmed. Being unbiased, insightful listeners when our clients share their personal experiences helps us meet clients where they are. Finally, evaluating food choices during different moments will provide direction on where we can help consumers make positive changes and when we should leave a place for tradition.
Lindsay’s BioLindsay is a nutrition communications analyst at the Campbell Soup Company where she coordinates health professional and consumer communications. She also works with internal and external partners on retail health and wellness programs. Prior to her role at Campbell, Lindsay worked as an in-store retail dietitian. She received her Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics from West Chester University and completed her dietetic internship with Pennsylvania State University. Lindsay received her Master of Science in Health Communications and Marketing from Boston University.