When Groceries Come in Vice-Virtue Bundles

When Groceries Come in Vice-Virtue Bundles

By: Emily von Hoffman

“Don’t go to the store on an empty stomach” may be the most widely known bit of conventional wisdom on the perils of grocery shopping. Its implication: Unless customers go armed with purpose and discipline, the grocery store is a battleground where they’ll likely fold to the abundant cues nudging them towards unhealthy items.

New research led by Peggy Liu and Gavan Fitzsimons of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business suggests a novel way to help consumers make healthful decisions. Liu et al. propose “vice-virtue bundles” as a solution that can help people manage their choices between healthy and unhealthy items. While all bundles have the same overall quantity, they have different proportions of vice to virtue—fries to salad, for instance—whether small (one-quarter vice), medium (one-half vice), or large (three-quarters vice).

Over four studies, Liu et al. compare choices between and perceptions of differently composed bundles, finding that people overall prefer those with small to medium proportions of vice. Consumers don’t seem to feel like they’re sacrificing taste, either: People generally ranked these lower-vice bundles as healthier but no less tasty than bundles with higher-vice contents. However, Liu et al. caution that offering vice-virtue bundles will not necessarily lead to reduced caloric consumption—they examine consumer subgroups of “vice lovers,” “virtue acceptors,” and “virtue lovers,” all of whom have different reactions to the various bundles.

Maligned for their traditionally unhealthy fare, many food chains and other for-profit establishments in the food industry are interested in tweaking their menus to include healthy offerings. Since consumers often prioritize taste over health, it is difficult to shift people entirely towards virtuous items. Creating mixed bundles addresses taste and health concerns simultaneously, reducing the decision maker’s task to a question of proportion rather than replacement. The authors reason, “For consumers who would otherwise select vice in the absence of vice-virtue bundles, this simple solution may lead to substantially healthier choices.”

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