08 Aug 2019

A study has revealed that retailers can promote healthy choices simply by altering the order of items on their menus

Research by the Warwick Business School, in conjunction with McDonalds, has revealed that diners choices can be heavily influenced by placing items in different orders on menus.

The research focused on discovering whether or not consumers could be prompted to choose a less sugary soft drink, in this case Coke Zero, dependent on where it appeared on the fast-food giants in-store touch screens.

Following the change purchases of Coca-Cola fell by 34 per store (9%) on average in the week following the change, while sales of Coke Zero increased by 19 (21%).

Sales of Coca-Cola fell by 345 per store (7%) on average in the 12 weeks after the change, while sales of Coke Zero increased by 317 (30%). The results were similar irrespective of socio-economic background of the areas the restaurants were located in.

Dr Ivo Vlaev, Professor of Behavioural Science at Warwick Business School, who co-authored the study, said: “This study shows you can make a big difference by small changes at the right time and place.

"It doesn't need to be complex, you can replicate what we did with McDonald's."

"Menus are usually how retailers communicate with customers, and we can make small changes in this medium such as reordering and prioritising the healthy option to make a big difference in people's lives. It’s a win-win if you do it the right way.”

“You can call it a cognitive trick. It’s based on a bias, or psychological blind spot we have when we are looking at the range of options in front of us, because we focus our attention on things that are immediately in front of us."

“It is not just hard measures, such as an additional tax on sugary drinks, that can be used to change behaviour. We would encourage business managers and public policymakers to consider how the physical layout of their menus – and their restaurants – can be leveraged to improve public health.”