Nudging consumers toward healthier food choices: a field study on the effect of social norms

Diogo Gonçalves, Pedro Coelho, Luis F. Martinez, Paulo Monteiro

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Abstract

Food choices influence the health of individuals, and supermarkets are the place where part of the world population makes their food choices on a daily basis. Different methods to influence food purchasing habits are used, from promotions to food location. However, very few supermarket chains use social norms, the human need to conform to the perceived behavior of the group, to increase healthy food purchase habits. This research seeks to understand how a social norm nudge, a message conveying fruit and vegetable purchasing norms positioned in strategic places, can effectively change food choices. Using data from an intervention in a Portuguese supermarket, the fruit and vegetable purchase quantities of 1636 customers were measured over three months and compared with the corresponding period of the previous year. The results show that the nudge intervention positively affected those whose purchasing habits are categorized as less healthy, while those with healthy habits were slightly negatively affected. Moreover, a follow-up inferential statistical analysis allows us to conclude that applying this intervention at a larger scale would deliver significant financial results for the supermarket chain in which the study took place, by decreasing the costs related to produce perishability while simultaneously improving the health of the consumer and the sustainability of the planet.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1660
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Volume13
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2 Feb 2021

Keywords

  • Behavioral science
  • Food choices
  • Health
  • Nudging
  • Social norms
  • Sustainability

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