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Public sector focus: Nudging healthy options

02 September 2016
Public sector focus: Nudging healthy options

University caterers have led the way in applying some easy tactics that can make a difference in consumer choices, says TUCO chair Julie Barker

When we talk about 'nudging', this doesn't mean banning unhealthy meals and products or telling customers what is or is not good for them. As many of us will know, this can often result in unintended consequences, with consumers feeling uncomfortable or even deciding to eat somewhere else.

One way to 'nudge' rather than tell, is by using marketing tactics wisely. These can be used to ensure more nutritious meals are promoted without the customer even knowing that's what you're doing.

An example of this is to physically make less-healthy products harder to see and reach. Re-arranging a drinks fridge so that water is at eye level, diet drinks are on the middle level and the sugary options are at the bottom makes the healthier choices seem more obvious, normal and easy.

We already know that some of the healthier options available, such as salad, hold greater potential for profit. However, while many find it worthwhile to spend a little more to have a nutritious or low-calorie meal, as decisions are often influenced by the perception of 'value' - particularly for those with tighter budgets such as students - some people need a little more persuading.

Caterers can use this perception to their advantage with clever offers. These deals could include a healthy 'meal-deal' - a meal or sandwich and a snack consisting of either fruit or vegetables, costing less than purchasing these items individually, but more than just buying a main meal. Students and consumers will be drawn to this value offering and be more likely to spend a little more.

Some caterers have opted for a 'customer's choice' when it comes to serving size. This means allowing customers to return for seconds, or choosing between a larger or smaller plate. This stops customers from over indulging as well as the accumulation of food waste that we are trying to reduce.

Adding short, sharp messages containing factual information to product displays is another simple yet effective method. This can be in the form of the 'healthy heart' symbol or stating that products are low in salt and carbohydrates or high in protein. These help to inform the customers' choices and make the healthier options seem more tempting.

Per day, we make over 200 decisions about food and drink alone - most of which are subconscious thoughts. So by creating an environment using these unconscious decisions we can draw the customer's eye to healthier, more profitable options. Simply removing the less healthy choices could deter potential customers from going to the establishment in the first place. This is why clever marketing can ensure that the healthier offers are more prominent and appealing.

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