In the animated version of The Jungle Book, Baloo the bear sings a classic from the Disney song archives when he croons, “You’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative…don’t mess with Mister In-Between.” The idea appears to have firmly taken hold with food developers.

Speaking at Prepared Foods’ New Products Conference (NPC), Richard Lenny delved into the marketing of health-oriented foods and beverages. “Consumers are more prone to respond to something positive, rather than the lack of something negative,” explained the operating partner with Friedman, Fleischer & Lowe LLC, and former chairman, president and CEO of The Hershey Co. His opinion would be echoed by speakers throughout this year’s NPC. In fact, Lynn Dornblaser and David Jago with Mintel International suggested manufacturers can reduce fat and sugar but, in marketing efforts, should emphasize the positive attributes of the resulting product.

However, while the consumption of healthy foods may be a laudable goal, new research suggests that very perception may well diminish the consumer’s enjoyment of the food. Per a Northwestern University study, guilt may play a role in consumers’ enjoyment of foods. The researchers found women, in particular, are more likely to enjoy food if they think it is bad for them: “The very guilt associated with indulging in forbidden foods can, in fact, enhance women’s enjoyment of them.”

That feeling of guilt, the researchers believe, could be priming consumers to take more pleasure in something they consider illicit. “If you advertise your product as being ‘guilt-free,’” the researchers opine, “what it could implicitly do is lower taste perception by lowering the expectation of pleasure. If you take the guilt out of it, people might not expect it to be as good. Let people benefit from the intrigue and pleasure, and enjoy their experience more.”

Could the next wave of healthy foods actually be more successful—both in terms of sales and consumer enjoyment—if the product packaging and labels focus instead on the indulgent qualities of the product? Has the market for healthy foods finally reached the point where these products are going to have to stand on their sensory merits? At the very least, it would appear consumer needs may require such a direction, and as such, the industry would be well-served to follow suit. To put it bluntly, ignore Baloo. pf