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December 6, 2017

Would you like a large waistline with that? Upselling in the fast food industry

By David Reimus

Obesity is once again in the limelight as the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) released a new report about how restaurants and fast food outlets are ‘upselling’ unhealthy products to get customers to spend more. Predictably, health experts have decried this practice as they claim it adds fuel to the obesity epidemic by encouraging overconsumption.

The UK is currently grappling with a widespread weight problem with 25% of the total population classified as obese in 2016 according to the NHS. This shocking figure is mainly the result of peoples more sedentary lifestyles and calorie dense, nutrient poor diets.

This begs the question, should fast food companies capitalise on healthy upselling?

In-store marketing techniques, such as upselling, are effective at incentivising consumers to overspend and overconsume by emphasising the ‘value’ of larger portions. Employees are also trained to upsell by asking simple, direct questions that force the consumer to agree quickly, for example “large [meal or drink]?”, which indicates that the default portion size is always the largest and most expensive. These types of innocuous questions influence consumer habits and raise companies’ profits.

This causes concern for health experts and consumers as upselling can easily encourage overconsumption of unhealthy products and weight gain. This concern is illustrated by GlobalData’s 2016 Q4 consumer survey in which 27% of British respondents said that they were concerned about obesity.

Consequently the report demands that government encourages more positive in-store marketing behaviors by cutting business rates for companies that do not train staff to upsell unhealthy food and drink. As such, fast food outlets should seek to upsell healthier options instead, like salads and low calorie offerings, to increase profits and decrease waistlines.

In the long term, it might be more profitable for companies to start asking: “would you like a salad with that?”

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