“A Loving Green Push”: Can grocery stores ‘nudge’ us to buy more fruits and veggies?

“A Loving Green Push”: Can grocery stores ‘nudge’ us to buy more fruits and veggies?

By: Janelle Becker

We all know there are marketing tactics all around us, but what if supermarkets could nudge us to make healthier choices?

Several Danish organizations, including the Danish Agriculture and Food Council and iNudgeYou, a nonprofit devoted to improving health, wealth, sustainability, and happiness using behavioral economics, have tried just that. Their research project, “A Loving Green Push”, began in 2013 at SuperBrugsen, a large Danish supermarket, aiming to increase fresh produce purchases without changing prices.

The experiment studied the impact of different nudges on consumer behavior. Behavioral economics has borrowed the term nudge for things that gently guide individuals towards a decision they themselves would consider a better choice. To do this, nudges use insights from psychology about what affects our choices, such as subtle environmental or social cues.

The “Loving Green Push” campaign studied several nudges, including placing vegetables near the entrance (when our willingness to buy healthy products is greatest), various signs and maps that encouraged buying local products, and placing fruit in the checkout aisle alongside the typical candy and junk food.  The results were impressive—fruit and vegetable sales increased 23% and 20%, respectively.

This increase in sales is good news for just about everyone involved!  The fruit and vegetable producers are seeing increased sales, supermarkets are selling more of high profit margin products that are perishable, individuals and families are buying healthier foods, and society in general benefits through improved public health.

The exciting and emerging field of behavioral economics is blending insights from psychology and economics to better understand how people really make decisions. While it comes as no surprise to most folks that we don’t always make wise decisions—we eat too much, exercise too little, should save more for retirement—classical economics is based on the assumption that people are rational, calculating beings. However, just because we do not always make decisions in our best interest does not mean we are choosing at random. As the well-known behavioral economist Dan Ariely puts it, we may be irrational, but we are predictably irrational.  There are patterns to the bad decisions we make. For example, people seem to use visual cues while eating, such as how much soup is left in a bowl. Understanding this visual component to eating allows for simple yet effective nudges, e.g. using smaller plates and bowls. People will consume fewer calories and still feel full.

We are not robots calculating exactly how many calories to consume. Instead, we are often influenced from environmental and social cues. Herein lies the opportunity for policymakers to get individuals to make better decisions—without heavy-handed regulation. While using behavioral economics and nudges cannot replace standard economics solutions, it can certainly join the fight and complement policies aimed at promoting healthy eating and reducing obesity.

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