When last we saw some results from New York’s menu labeling initiative, they were from an experiment testing the outcomes at fast food restaurants in low-income neighborhoods, and they were dismal. Now comes news that calorie-labeling appears to be working at Starbucks. But this seems to me to be something of an expected, and depressing, result: For now, menu labeling appears to be working where people are more calorie conscious and nutritionally literate and failing where they’re less attuned to those things. Put differently, labeling isn’t enough.
Weight Watchers seems to do pretty well with precisely that kind of labeling. They boil down the food part of their program to a pretty simple set of metrics that people can follow without paying Weight Watchers money. And yet restaurants and makers of other foods want the Weight Watchers label. They tailor their products to attract those consumers using a metric along which some people want to make food choices. Weight Watchers offers itself as a proxy for your own research and quality control and reaps gains through reputation. Weight Watchers also sues companies that they think misuse their brand.
In saying “labeling isn’t enough,” Ezra is really saying that it’s not enough to dislodge some people from their default choices. Some people aren’t interested in any metric other than, “Is it delicious?” People value calorie information differently and posted calorie information just isn’t enough to make some people choose what Ezra would prefer.
So nudging isn’t working. Would Ezra resort to shoving next?