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Can an apple a day make you put healthier food in your supermarket trolley?

Posted: 29 April 2015 | Victoria White | No comments yet

Researchers have discovered that shoppers can be primed to buy more produce when they eat a healthy item before shopping by eating an apple beforehand…

Cornell University researchers have discovered that shoppers can be primed to buy more produce when they eat a healthy item before shopping.

apple

The research, conducted by Aner Tal, PhD, and Brian Wansink, PhD, found that individuals who ate an apple sample before shopping bought 25% more fruits and vegetables that those who did not eat a sample.

Tal and Wansink conducted three studies to test their hypothesis that healthy snacks prime shoppers to make healthier food selections. In the first study, 120 shoppers were randomly given an apple sample, a cookie sample or no sample at the start of their shopping trip. The researchers then tracked their purchases and found that those who were given the apple sample bought 28% more fruits and vegetables than those given a cookie sample and 25% more fruits and vegetables than those given no sample.

“What this teaches us,” Tal explains, “is that having a small healthy snack before shopping can put us in a healthier mindset and steer us towards making better food choices.”

Shoppers who ate an apple opted for healthier items when offered a choice between low-calorie and high-calorie items

In the second and third study, participants shopped virtually. In study two, 56 participants were given an actual cookie or apple sample then asked to imagine they were grocery shopping. They were then shown 20 product pairs and directed to select which one they would purchase. Each pair contained one healthy (low-calorie) item and one unhealthy (high-calorie) item. As in the previous study, those who ate the apple opted for healthier items. Interestingly, those who ate a cookie opted for a greater amount of less healthy items.

Study participants influenced by perceived healthiness of items consumed before shopping

The third study sought to see if just framing a sample as healthy or not influences subsequent shopping behaviour. 59 participants were divided randomly into three groups. Group one was given chocolate milk labelled “healthy, wholesome chocolate milk,” group two was given the same milk but labelled, “rich, indulgent chocolate milk,” and the final group did not receive any milk. All participants were asked to make food selections in a virtual shop that contained a variety of healthy (low-calorie) and unhealthy (high-calorie) options. Participants who were given the milk labelled healthy and wholesome selected more healthy foods in the virtual grocery store. This finding indicates that what influences shoppers behaviour after consuming a sample is not the actual healthfulness of the sample but its perceived healthiness.

In conclusion, for consumers, the researchers recommend having a small healthy snack like a piece of fruit before shopping. Not only will it help decrease hunger, it may also encourage shoppers to consider healthier food options. Supermarkets could also encourage their customers to buy more produce by offering samples of fruits and vegetables at the entrance to stores.

The research, An Apple a Day Brings More Apples Your Way: Healthy Samples Prime Healthier Choices, is published in Psychology & Marketing.

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