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Grandma’s Apple Pie Is Better Than Apple Pie

Researchers find that food products sell better when they're labeled with descriptive phrases that elicit warm family memories.
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We don’t have time to bake for our kids, so we buy them Mother’s Cookies. We rarely dine with relatives, but we do enjoy Uncle Ben’s rice and Auntie Anne’s pretzels.

Newly published research from France confirms, the emotional tug of such labels is quite effective. Even in a country renowned for its sophisticated palates, evocative names can be the difference when choosing dinner.

Researchers Nicolas Guéguen and Céline Jacob of the Université de Bretagne-Sud performed an experiment at a restaurant in Brittany, a small establishment patronized primarily by traveling businesspeople. For 12 days, the researchers manipulated the menu, varying the names of specific dishes.

Depending on the day the diners stopped by, they were given the opportunity to order either a “Mixed Salad” (usual label), “Uncle Jean’s Mixed Salad” (family label), “Classical Mixed Salad” (traditional label) or “French Country Mixed Salad” (patriotic label). Meat and fish dishes were given a similar variety of names, as was the apple pie.

The researchers found patrons were significantly more likely to order the specially labeled dishes. Descriptive phrases that elicit warm family memories, such as “Grandma’s Home-made Grilled Chicken,” sold particularly well.

The study was published in the journal Food Quality and Preference — which, come to think of it, may be more popular if renamed Grandma’s Old-Fashioned Food Research.