In El Paso, Texas, 32 percent of adults are obese and 12 percent have diabetes. These numbers make it the perfect place to test out new strategies to nudge people to buy more produce, which is exactly what two social scientists from New Mexico State University, Colin R. Payne and Mihai Niculescu are trying to do. They are implementing a strategy called nudge marketing, which advocates using just the right amount of pressure to persuade: not too little, not too much.
In one supermarket, they used green arrows pointing shoppers to the left (the produce section). Although the customer tends to go right, they found that nine times out of ten, with the presence of the arrow, the customer went left. Then, they took a different approach, putting signs in the shopping carts that told people how much produce the average consumer was buying, as well as the best selling fruits and vegetables.
The result: Fresh produce sales increased 10 percent. Astoundingly, among consumers who were part of the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, these sales increased by 91 percent.
Another tactic involved attaching a long mirror to the front of the shopping cart so that consumers could see themselves as they were shopping. And in a Virginia supermarket, researchers divided the cart into two sections, one for fruits and vegetables and one for other items. They found average produce sales increased from about $4 to about $9 per customer.
Michael R. Lowe, a Drexel University psychology professor and researcher on weight control says, I think what they re doing is very innovative and clever. If you put up some cues that remind people of their weight or healthy eating, without hitting them over the head, they will go and choose healthier items.
But it s also hard with the many competing nudges that may be found currently in supermarkets. Among those are that the sweetest items are displayed at eye level, where shoppers attention remains the longest, impulse items are placed at checkout and those usually aren t in the form of fruits or vegetables, and certain products are found multiple times in the store, once again not fruits or vegetables. This increased exposure makes one more likely to buy the products.
ACSH s Ariel Savransky says, There are a lot of cues in grocery stores that consumers are not aware of that encourage them to buy certain foods. If these strategies, either consciously or subconsciously, result in the consumer spending more time in the produce section of the grocery store, they have the potential to really change the way that people are eating. And it s great that many of the strategies employed by these two researchers are pushing for consumers to be more aware of themselves and their shopping habits, so they can make their own decisions.