Sun. Mar 3rd, 2024

29 Mar 2023 — Grocery stores could increase their revenue by introducing self-monitoring labels in an online shopping setting, suggests a new study. It further found that such marks, where consumers are reminded of their purchasing pattern of healthy foods, had a higher impact on consumer behavior than discounts on healthy foods or comparing purchasing behavior to other consumers. 

The study looked into technology-enabled food labels with specific information that may help consumers commit to healthier food options over unhealthy ones, focusing on three nutritional food labels: self-monitoring, pre-commitment and social comparison. 

“Self-monitoring of previous healthy food choices might be more effective than pre-commitment based on discounts for healthy food products,” according to the research.  

Self-monitoring and pre-commitment-based technology-enabled nutritional food labels might be more effective for impulsive consumers than non-impulsive people. 

The authors note that impulsive behaviors may lead to obesity. The World Obesity Federation has predicted that 51% of the world’s population will be overweight or obese by 2035 if current patterns are unchanged.

Online shopping experiment 
The study, published in Frontiers in Nutrition, included 405 participants tested on impulsivity. They were asked to choose one of three food baskets in an online experiment at hypothetical online grocery stores. Each food basket included different healthy food labels and indications on delivery time and price. 

Computer screen showing healthy food option.The researchers found that self-monitoring labels were more effective than discounts in increasing healthy food consumption. On self-monitoring behavior, the authors state that “research suggests instructing individuals to actively record their choices may promote an increase in healthy food choices.” Participants were told that by choosing this label, they would continue their “healthy streak,” as it showed how many healthy orders they made in a row. 

Pre-commitment refers to changing an immediate consequence of the individual choice to choose larger-later rewards. If participants chose this label, they were told they would get a 10% discount on this and the subsequent purchase containing a minimum of 30% of fruits and vegetables. 

Social comparison refers to situations where consumers tend to copy other people’s behavior when uncertain about what choices are correct in a given case. In the experiment, this label showed the percentage of groceries in a basket labeled as healthy compared to what other consumers in their area have bought, either +15% or -15%. 

The researchers used the Traffic Light Food Labeling System to define what is “healthy,” a front-of-package food labeling system used in the UK. 

Implementing self-monitoring labels
Companies might use self-monitoring labels to increase healthy food choices rather than providing a discount on healthy foods, thus saving costs. 

According to the researchers, developing healthy food labels based on self-monitoring principles might be relatively inexpensive. Online grocery stores can integrate information from customers’ online accounts into point-of-sale moments. 

However, in doing so, companies must consider customer privacy, data accuracy, ownership and accessibility. 

Hand holding phone with online grocery app on it. Study participants chose online food baskets with self-monitoring, pre-commitment or social comparison labels.Implementing technology-enabled nutritional food labels may generate more consumer engagement with online grocery stores. With these labels, companies can provide higher consumer well-being by not restricting their product options. 

The US Food and Drug Administration published draft guidance for food manufacturers on how and when to use Dietary Guidance Statements on food labels to help them promote good nutrition. 

Follow-up research key 
The researchers point to the need for future research, as results might be specific for UK participants. Order effects and the sequence of introduction to the technology-enabled healthy food labels may also have affected choice behavior, as did the price of the offer. 

According to the authors, additional research should investigate how these and other technology-enabled healthy food labels may impact actual purchases of healthy foods. 

A consumer survey has shown that Nutri-Score labeling helps consumers navigate product health claims. Dr. Kristin Jürkenbeck, from the University of Göttingent in Germany, previously told NutritionInsight: “The Nutri-Score enables consumers to better classify foods in terms of their health value.”

Food companies across Europe are falling short of best practice nutrition recommendations while at the same time relying on ultra-processed foods as a large part of their product portfolio,” Dr. Hannah Brinsden, director of policy at the World Obesity Federation, told us.

By Jolanda van Hal 

This feature is provided by FoodIngredientsFirst’s sister website, NutritionInsight.

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