Something for the weekend

Have you opted for a ‘savoury’ packet of potato chips or a ‘traditional recipe’? You may be revealing more than you realise

When you next select a snack from the supermarket shelves, be careful. Your choice may say a lot more about you than you realise.

Food can be used as an indicator of social class, national identity and ethnicity. Now researchers have taken this one stage further and examined the language used to describe food, and specifically how words and phrases are used to advertise certain food products and help them appeal to particular socioeconomic groups.

In their paper Authenticity in America: class distinctions in potato chip advertising Joshua Freedman, a graduate from Stanford University and Dan Jurafsky, a professor of linguistics at Stanford, looked at a food that is to some extent classless and eaten by all socioeconomic groups - the potato chip.

They wanted to discover how language varied and whether or not advertisers used different language on bags of chips depending on their target audience.

They discovered that when marketing chips to a higher social class advertisers tend to use more complex language, refer more to health issues and describe not only what they are, but also what they are not, for example not greasy and not fried. Moreover, these more expensive chips rely on a considerable use of comparisons such as less fat, finest potatoes.

Thus on the supermarket shelf - if not looking at price - a more expensive packet might be identified by the use of words such as savoury and culinary, using only nature’s finest, compared with a cheaper bag that might rely on words such as fresh, basic and light.

The researchers discovered that the perception of authenticity is important across all socioeconomic classes, but the language used to appeal to these classes is different.

Whilst lower socioeconomic groups consider authenticity as traditional, upper classes see authenticity as natural. Thus advertisers of cheaper chips might use terms such as “traditional family recipe” or “the same recipe that your grandmother used to make”. However, when hoping to sell chips to a higher social class advertisers might prefer to use language such as free from additives, or handmade using natural ingredients.

“Authenticity for consumers of inexpensive chips is rooted in tradtion and hominess” says Mr Freedman.

The paper is published in Gastronomica: The journal of food and culture.

● The question whether or not entrepreneurship can be taught is one that has intrigued generations of business school professors. Now research by an entrepreneurship specialist in China has lent weight to the theory that it is in fact possible to learn how to become an entrepreneur.

Moreover, Thomas Wing Yan Man of the University of Nottingham Ningbo China business school says that entrepreneurs through “an active process of learning and reflection” try continuously to improve their entrepreneurial prowess.

“Learning is a key characteristic of a successful entrepreneur,” says Dr Man.

“They [entrepreneurs] are highly motivated in seeking learning opportunities. They learn selectively and purposely and they learn in depth.”

Dr Man studied a dozen entrepreneurs in Hong Kong, most of whom had set up their own businesses and had at least 500 employees. Most were university graduates.

Dr Man discovered that all the entrepreneurs he studied spent a considerable amount of time evaluating their successes and failures so that they did not repeat mistakes. They were also eager to take part in training courses and seek out “management practices and ideas from others and from text books”.

Dr Man has identified six patterns of learning common to Chinese entrepreneurs: they seek opportunities to learn; they learn selectively; in depth; continuously; they reflect on their experiences and they employ learning outcomes to current practices.

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