Satisfying The Hunger

We all know the experience of feeling hungry. The gnawing sensation of hunger fuels the desire to eat. The desire to eat leads to the urge to overeat. Overeating is the pathway to obesity. Developing and/or modifying food products that satisfy hunger, make people feel full, is the concept many food companies are banking on will be the next big diet/food trend. But, how do you market a new food/diet trend when few people (both industry food people and, most importantly, consumers), have heard of the word, much less knows what it means? This is the double-edge sword that is "satiety." "Sa..." what you ask?

Satiety (pronounced, "sa-TIE-uh-tee") is, according to the dictionary definition: "The state of being full or gratified to or beyond the point of satisfaction." Satiety is the flipside of hunger and appetite. It is the physiological and psychological experience of feeling full that results from eating and/or drinking. As we all know from experience, it isn't just the one potato chip or single bite of a hamburger that satisfies us. It is eating the whole darn thing that nurtures "satiety."

Contributing to the feeling of satisfaction has as much to do with the makeup of the food as with the volume of the food. The water, fiber and macronutrient content of food can all influence satiety. What this means is that foods with similar calorie counts, but which induce increased satiety, in the long-term, could possibly be a potent weapon in preventing or alleviating obesity. Nutrition scientists worldwide are keen to find such foods as the benefits to consumers and the food industry offer numerous opportunities. Developing and marketing products that promote increased satiety is just the trend many food companies would like to see take flight - and soon.

The trend that isn't

Satiety, however, is not a trend. What major food companies are perhaps hinging their marketing hopes on is the important supporting role satiety, as a concept, plays in consumers' daily practice of healthy living.

Americans do fret over weight management; it is a subject difficult to avoid or ignore, not that one should or that one can given the media's seemingly ravenous obsession for obesity-related news stories. Ever increasingly, consumers feel challenged to maintain control in many aspects of their lives and eating is one area where they are especially challenged. In a recent online poll of over 830 health and wellness conscious consumers, 59% say they are "concerned with overeating." For over half of respondents (59%), the critical time of day when they feel most challenged to control overeating is in the evening, after dinner, perhaps while watching TV or a movie. Mid-afternoon, those hours between lunch and dinner, is munchies-challenge/avoidance time for about a third of the consumers in our poll (30%). The morning hours, between breakfast and lunch, is when fewest (11%) feel the urge to overeat. (Source: Hartman Interactive, February 2006.)
Consumers fight an everyday battle to control the urge to eat when hunger pangs attack:
"I seem to get hungry between every meal so I snack some. While I try to snack on foods that good (whole grain, fruit), sometimes those things aren't around and I just have to fix my food craving with whatever is around."

"If I didn't snack, I wouldn't have to lose the 20 pounds I need to."

"I constantly find myself trying to fight the urge to return to the fridge and the cupboard, even after a big meal when I know I'm not hungry; I just want to eat. I feel out of control sometimes."

"Sudden hunger hits me and I feel as if I need a candy bar, chips or something loaded with butter and calories. At this rate, I will look like the Goodyear Blimp."

To reap any potential benefits that satiety suggests, marketers would be well-advised to take their eye off the end of the rainbow, that is, the lucrative, burgeoning multi-billion dollar diet industry, and focus their attention first and foremost on understanding consumer perceptions of satiety.

Satiety is most obviously and directly judged in the context of hunger control. It does inform consumer expectations, and impressions, of food and beverage offerings and is one measure consumers use to gauge product relevance in a larger health and wellness context.

While portion control strategies (both practiced and packaged) are gaining in consumer relevance, consumers involved in health and wellness are more likely to employ familiar and readily available strategies, when feeling hungry, to control what they eat or how much they eat. About one-quarter of respondents simply drink water to curb their hunger pangs. Other strategies include:

Eating a healthy snack, such as nuts
Eating fruit or veggies
Take mind off hunger by doing some other activity such as going for a walk or reading
Drink tea
Tough it out and just ignore the feeling
For some, about 8 percent, the urge is too much and they give in and eat anything.

There is no one "silver bullet" solution

Satiety is a complex issue. As food scientists continue to explore what triggers satiety, from makeup and ingredients to sensory cues (flavor, aroma, etc.), and food developers look for ways to convert findings into new food products, the consumer perspective must remain in the crosshairs. History has shown that consumers are leery of food products they feel have been "tampered with." When we asked consumers if a food product (fresh or processed) should be modified or altered (e.g., genetically or through additives such as increased fiber content) to help make them feel satisfied longer or to help control their appetites, over three-quarters (78%) of respondents to our poll said "No."

Currently, concerns about satiety are most focused on meal occasions, particularly lunch. Hunger is still "satisfied," or remedied, most directly within meal occasions. Lunchtime is the one occasion where consumers vocalize (in their own way, using their own words) most emphatically their feelings of hunger and the need to satisfy it and often the choice is not "what to eat," but "where to eat." Snacks are about building and maintaining energy, and to some extent "preventing" hunger.

If satiety has any chance to gain traction, to become relevant with consumers, then innovation, not marketing, must lead the way. Satiety is too broad and abstract a concept to gain a real foothold as a marketing/positioning platform. Satiety just does not factor strongly into the present day consumer purchase mindset or consumption behavior patterns. Enhanced "hunger control" may be where the opportunity lies.

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About The Author, Harvey Hartman
Harvey Hartman - Founder, Chairman & CEO of The Hartman Group ( author, business school lecturer and former Fortune 500 senior executive, Harvey Hartman is a nationally recognized expert on American cultural change and the consumer activities.