Nudging consumer food choice

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Helping consumers to make healthier, more sustainable food choices is a target for many retailers. A recent scientific article has investigated the efficacy of various “nudging” techniques in cafeteria settings.

Nudging involves deliberately changing how choices are presented to consumers to influence their decision. In this study, the authors changed how cafeteria meal choices were presented to consumers in eight cafeterias in schools, universities, businesses, and hospitals in Germany, on two occasions three years apart.

The authors used an existing sustainability calculator that includes both environmental and health data to determine the most sustainable choice on a menu.

The nudges trialled were placing the most sustainable dish in the best position on the service counter; placing it at the top of the menu; giving it a more descriptive name; and adding sustainability labels with or without full explanation of the sustainability of the dish.

Simply placing an item in the best counter position led to a 22.5% increase in selection above baseline in the first study, but this dropped to 11.6% in a second study three years later (2019/2020). Extensive sustainability labelling and explanations had no effect on sales in the first study but resulted in a 15.9% increase in sales in the second study. The remaining nudges either had no significant impact, or actually led to sales decreases.

These results can be useful to those in the food service industry with an interest in increasing sustainable choices. The authors cite increasing sustainability awareness and consumer interest as a possible reason for the success of the extensive sustainability labels in the second study only. Counter position was by far the most successful approach, and also the easiest for the cafeterias to implement.

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