KOB TV: Grocery experiment provokes healthier purchases

August 9, 2010. Retrieved online August 10, 2010 from Stuart Dyson, KOB, El Paso, TX

Watch the KOB video, read the report

The solution to the problems of bad nutrition, obesity and poor health may be right in front of you the next time you go to the supermarket.

Researchers at New Mexico State University say a simple change in the design of shopping carts may help people make better decisions about the food they buy.

Collin Payne, an assistant professor in NMSU’s College of Business, conducted the research at supermarkets in Las Cruces. Researchers marked a line with yellow duct tape across the width of shopping carts, and placed a sign on the cart asking shoppers to place fruit and vegetables in front of the tape line, and the rest of their groceries behind the line.

“And what we saw was a bump of a 102% increase in purchasing of fruits and vegetables with that simple sign and line,” Payne said.

Payne’s idea was to use some social psychology to provide some help for consumers facing a bombardment of food hype in the media and in the store.

“Food manufacturers have tremendous amounts of money to research what influences people to buy their products,” Payne said. “We’re looking for tools that will help consumers if they want to make healthier decisions. Right now there are more tools helping them make less healthy decisions.”

Payne said earlier experiments involving simple food-rating systems had little impact on customers buying healthier groceries. He said his research found no drop in the amount of money customers were spending, so it appears the shopping cart modification wouldn’t hurt supermarket profits.

“We want to be healthy, so we’re faced with going to the grocery store every week and trying to make those decisions that are best for us, “Payne said. “I’m not saying we should get rid of candy bars— I wouldn’t want to live in a world without candy bars— but consumers need better tools.”

Payne said he plans to continue the research next year in Las Cruces, testing the best placement for the yellow line and whether marking off more spaces for different categories of groceries would be effective.

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