The Halo Effect in Food Selection

I recently attended the Livestock, Environment and People (LEAP) Conference 2020, which included several thought-provoking and varied presentations.  

Heidi Zamzow from the London school of economics and political science gave an incredibly engaging presentation on a psychological effect known as the ‘halo’ effect. She opened her talk with “do you think David Attenborough pays his taxes on time”. The Halo effect is where our initial evaluations tend to influence (or cast a halo on) our later evaluations. In this example, as Attenborough is beloved by many in the UK, many of us may assume he does pay his taxes on time without any evidence proving this. This study focused on whether this halo effect could influence our food choices.  

Heidi referenced a fascinating 2012 study led by Jonathon Schuldt that had people estimate the number of calories in a chocolate bar. When told the chocolate manufacturers treated their workers ethically, the participants infer the chocolate had fewer calories. However, when told they treated their workers poorly, calories were inferred to be higher. This shows an ‘ethical halo’ affected people’s views on the chocolate. Heidi questioned whether an ‘environmental halo’ could do the same. The answer was yes – an environmental halo will lead to positive product recommendations. Interestingly the effect of a negative halo was stronger than a positive halo which was attributed to negativity bias (otherwise known as the idea that bad is more powerful than good).   

Patricia Eustachio Colombo from the Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, also spoke on an intervention study on the effects of more sustainable and nutritional school meals. This sort of change could be a significant contributor to both environmental change and lowered levels of obesity. The latter is frequently addressed by healthcare experts as key in the fight against the Covid-19 crisis. School meals reach children for at least one meal per day and often cover a large part of public; in the UK the school catering industry alone is worth £1.2 billion a year. Therefore, optimising these to promote health and climate change friendly dietary habits could be ground-breaking. Something I found interesting about her presentation was the delicate balance of aligning the different health objectives with the climate change ones.  

I think these presentations really showed how consumers are rethinking what they eat and buy is growing the plant-based meat substitute market. This trend is, in my view, an incredibly attractive investment. As an active investor, spotting trends early is very important, which is why I have chosen to invest in companies that offer plant-based alternatives such as ALOHA and JUST