Students eat for class research

Carol Matteucci

By Megan Loiselle

More than 200 people tasted roasted garlic jelly beans and eclectic foreign candy in the Illini Union Tuesday afternoon in the “Battle of the Brands.”

The “Battle of the Brands” is a combination of several research studies created by students in professor Brian Wansink’s Food and Brand Lab in the College of Business. The event’s purpose was to find out more about eating habits and what people think about what they eat.

Once in the room, they were given a clipboard, a packet and bowl of Wheat Thins or Gummy Bears. The subjects tried unsavory jelly beans, foreign candies and guessed the number of calories in certain foods.

“The roasted garlic was really nasty,” said Daniel Bedford, freshman in LAS. “I wouldn’t recommend it.”

Another student expressed her disgust with the jelly bean maker’s audacity to make such a flavor.

The students were directed to rank the flavors from one to 12 and were given a sample of their favorite flavor, their seventh-ranked flavor and their least favorite flavor.

As they ate each jelly bean, they ranked them, said Kate Feldt, senior in business and a student in the class.

She said it helps the researchers determine if people save their favorite for last and how favorite foods affect opinion of the dining experience.

The Food and Brand Lab is an independent study class that is open to all students. They create research studies that have several objectives, like how mood influences what people eat and how much they eat, said graduate student Rebecca Shaffer.

The Graduate Marketing Association (GMA) supports the researchers by recruiting people and advertising the event.

“We talk up the experiments,” said Beth Jones, president of GMA. “I get what I don’t like out of the way, but other people are the exact opposite.”

Marketing majors do not usually do hands-on research in their classes, but marketing research is one of the biggest areas they are hired into, Jones said.

“It’s a great learning experience,” she said.

Amy Egizio said the business students were interested in the study of food to see how people think about what they eat.

Two plastic pumpkins were full of different foreign candies for the participants to choose at random. A box to spit out the rejects was nearby.

Pam Panya, senior in business, said she was trying to see if by eating some good and some bad candy the subjects would rate the whole experience as bad.

“At meals, you have some bad and some good things,” Panya said. “I rated it all bad even though I got some good candy.”

At one table there were six sets of headphones – three were playing a new song by U2 and three were playing Kenny G. The subjects were directed to a sheet of paper that had a picture of two small piles of blue and red M & M’s. After listening to the music for a few minutes, they are asked to circle the amount of each color that they would consume at that moment.

Steve Kang, senior in business, said his hypothesis is that listening to U2 would influence a person to choose a red-colored food and listening to Kenny G would influence them to choose blue, even if they tasted the same. He said the color red can be more exciting while blue is comforting.

Jenny Miksanek, junior in LAS, said she listened to Kenny G and indicated she would have chosen to eat red M & M’s.

“The blue ones are stranger,” Miksanek said. “They haven’t been around forever.”

David Baker, freshman in engineering, said the “Battle of the Brands” was unique.

One table had several different plastic foods and the survey asked the subjects to rate how they felt about the food in each of the situations.

For example, would a side of nachos and cheese be enjoyable at a candlelit dinner?

At another table, there were four plates with a typical meal from a “hearty” restaurant like McDonald’s: chicken nuggets and sauce, fries and a soft drink. Each plate had a bigger serving of each and are lettered A to D. Another four plates featured a meal from a “healthy” restaurant like Subway. On each plate, the size of the sub sandwich, side of potato chips and diet soft drink increased.

On the survey, the sheet asked how many calories the subject thought they would save by eating the healthy meal A rather than the hearty meal A.

Graduate student Nina Huesgen said she chose Meal A, the smallest, as the one that saves the most calories.

Students have their own area of research. Jennifer Roberts, a graduate student in Wansink’s class, created a research study on wine.

“I couldn’t bring it here though,” Roberts said. “With (Wansink’s) guidance, the students formulate interesting conclusions.”

Roberts said it is a great opportunity for those looking for marketing jobs in a food company.

Wansink said the “Battle of Brands” is in its seventh year.

One of the reasons the event is held is because it gives graduate students a chance to run their own experiment. In this format, they don’t have to recruit their own subjects.

“We encourage people to eat healthy and be better-informed consumers,” Wansink said.

One survey asks how much the subject weighed before their freshman year in college, after their freshman year and their current weight in order to learn more about which people are most likely to gain the “freshman 15.”

The survey asks people questions about their experience with food as children, such as if they ate all their vegetables or were required to clean their whole plate, in order to determine if that has any correlation with weight gain.

Wansink said the results of the studies are published on their Web site, www.foodpsychology.com.