New educational program encourages home use of food thermometers.

Position:EH Update

The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is applying commercial marketing techniques to promote the use of food thermometers. In the social sector, audience segmentation has traditionally focused on elements such as race or gender. FSIS, however, is adopting a "psychographic" approach used by commercial marketers. That approach identifies audiences on the basis of "lifestyles and values," as well as geographic location.

Tackling the Tough Sell

FSIS first began to explore social-marketing applications when the agency began designing a campaign to increase consumer use of food thermometers in 1998. The agency asked consumers if they would use a food thermometer, Most consumers responded in no uncertain terms: "No way."

There is no question that encouraging consumer use of food thermometers is a challenging task. Determined to tackle the problem, the FSIS food safety education staff pulled together a team to strategize a new approach for reaching consumers. Social-marketing concepts were used at every stage in the development of the campaign.


In 1998, existing survey data showed that less than 50 percent of American cooks owned food thermometers. They used them primarily to check large cuts of meat, like holiday turkeys. Only 3 percent reported that they used food thermometers to check small items like hamburgers.

Starting in 1998, 24 focus group sessions were conducted throughout the country, gathering insights and opinions from more than 200 people. Each focus group was selected to represent a demographic segment, with groups selected by age and educational background. The sessions provided a rich portrait of potential audiences and generalized conclusions:

* consumers were relying on color of meat and intuition to test doneness,

* knowledge and use of thermometers were limited, and

* enthusiasm for use of a thermometer was low.

Overall, consumers felt that they had been cooking for years without ill effects and just didn't need "more hassle." Two groups of people, however, indicated that they might change their behavior:

* Parents of young children were willing to make changes--for their children only, though.

* Cooks interested in quality food preparation--and not overcooking--also were interested.

As a result, FSIS decided that the first phase of its campaign would target information to the general public in order to raise awareness--with subset messages stressing benefits for parents and quality cooks.

Applying the Four...

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