Could a simple change in the design of shopping carts help people make better decisions about the food they buy? That’s what researchers at New Mexico State University (NMSU) are studying and the results may surprise you. Shoppers who had one of the special carts bought 102 percent more fruits and veggies than those who had regular carts.
“Customers are bombarded with literally thousands of messages about food as soon as they walk into the grocery store,” said Collin Payne, an assistant professor in marketing at NMSU’s College of Business. “Food manufacturers have tremendous amounts of money to research what influences people to buy their products. 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.”
One of the first shopping carts was introduced in 1937, the invention of Sylvan Goldman, owner of a supermarket chain in Oklahoma City. They didn’t catch on right away: men found them effeminate and women thought they suggested a baby carriage. After the inventor hired models to push his invention around his store and demonstrate their utility, as well as greeters to explain their use, shopping carts became extremely popular and Goldman became a multimillionaire. Over the years modifications have been made to the carts, including making them larger because consumers buy more when using larger carts. Today shopping carts are found in most grocery stores and big box stores.
The NMSU study was pretty straight forward. The research team simply used duct tape to put a yellow line across the width of shopping carts with a sign designating one side of the cart for fruits and vegetables and the other for everything else.
“We showed a 102 percent increase in people buying fruits and vegetables, without showing a decrease in supermarket profitability,” he said. “Allowing retailers such as supermarkets to maintain their profits is important in achieving buy-in for these kinds of tools. Whether the profits of food manufacturers are affected remains to be seen.”