Consumers found to prioritise price over health when food shopping

Posted: 14 June 2023 | | No comments yet

According to latest research, when healthy buying incentives are removed from food products, consumers choose price over health when shopping.

woman in shop

A new study into food consumer shopping behaviours has revealed that, when faced with a choice between lower prices or healthier foods, consumers will likely choose lower prices.

Although the study found that when food consumers are given temporary incentives to buy healthier foods they are likely to choose healthier foods when shopping, taking away the discounts meant that consumers were “more likely to return to their old behaviours of buying the less healthy/less expensive options”.

The study is titled “The Persistence of Healthy Behaviours in Food Purchasing,” was conducted by Marit Hinnosaar from the University of Nottingham and Centre for Economic Policy Research in London.

To conduct the research, Hinnosaar analysed the US Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). WIC gives vouchers for specific foods to mothers and their children aged five and younger. In 2009, WIC policy reform changed the composition of food vouchers, introducing vouchers to encourage purchase of healthier products.

Hinnosaar used the NielsenIQ household-level scanner data of grocery purchases to conduct her research and explained: “I conducted what you might call ‘difference-in-differences’ analysis to assess the immediate and long-term impacts of the healthier choice incentive programme”.

She went on to note that the product categories most targeted by the programme were bread and milk, however the programme also includes fruits, vegetables, juice, eggs and cereal.

According to Hinnosaar, the evidence points to a decrease in purchases of healthier options after participants left the programme.

“During the incentive program, vouchers were restricted to whole wheat bread and low-fat milk. Since some of these options tend to be more expensive, once the vouchers were no longer available for these products, consumers tended to choose items based on price.”

Summarising the research, Hinnosaar said “it is possible to conclude that a modest post-programme subsidy once program participants leave the programme – to incentivise healthier food choices – may be a more sustainable way to lengthen the programme’s impact and lead to long-term healthier food purchases.”

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