Cornell Food & Brand Lab researchers have learned that participants who ate an apple before going grocery shopping bought 25 percent more fruits and vegetables than those who didnt. The researchers recommend having a small, healthy snack such as a piece of fruit before shopping to decrease hunger and possibly select healthier items.
The research published in Psychology & Marketing was conducted over three studies to test the hypothesis that healthy snacks contribute to shoppers making healthier food selections.
For 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.
For the second and third studies, 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.
The third study sought to see if just framing a sample as healthy or not influences subsequent shopping behavior. Fifty-nine participants were divided randomly into three groups. Group one was given chocolate milk labeled "healthy, wholesome chocolate milk," group two was given the same milk but labeled "rich, indulgent chocolate milk," and the final group did not receive any milk. All participants were asked to make food selections in a virtual grocery store that contained a variety of healthy (low-calorie) and unhealthy (high-calorie) options. Participants who were given the milk labeled healthy and wholesome selected more healthy foods in the virtual grocery store. This finding indicates that what influences shoppers behavior after consuming a sample is not the actual healthfulness of the sample but its perceived healthfulness.
The researchers recommend for consumers to have a small healthy snack such as a piece of fruit before shopping to help decrease hunger and possibly select healthier items. For grocery stores they recommend leveraging these findings and encouraging people to buy more produce by offering samples of fruits and vegetables to shoppers upon entering the store.
"What this teaches us is that having a small healthy snack before shopping can put us in a healthier mindset and steer us towards making better food choices," says Cornell researcher Aner Tal PhD.