How do shoppers evaluate the nutritional information on packaged foods? To find out, Madhubalan Viswanathan, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, timed college students as they compared labels that had eithernumeric data or descriptive statements--such as "4 grams of fiber per serving" or "rich in fiber."
The students went for the numbers: They made choices faster than when their selections were based on descriptive phrases. Then, extending his work, Viswanathan turned up this surprise: Brands featuring numerical data were easier to remember. Exactly why is still being studied, Viswanathan says, "but I'm afraid it's for the wrong reason--you don't have to think so much about what the numbers mean." Still, his findings are food for thought, for the industry and for nutrition-labeling experts at the Food & Drug Administration.