Nutrition Nudges - Healthy Pantry Initiatives

Nutrition Nudges - Healthy Pantry Initiatives image
What are nudges?

A nudge is a subtle environmental change used to influence consumer decisions. Imagine your experience through a supermarket or department store. There are dozens of “nudges” around the store that lead you to buy a product you might have otherwise walked past if you didn’t get “nudged” into that decision. As you walk through the aisles of a supermarket, you might notice that you’ve seen bananas in more than one spot, or if it’s football season, the huge sports themed chip displays. Other times you’ll run into promotions like “5 for $5” or tempting treats at the checkout that lead you to buy more than you normally would. These are all forms of marketing, and supermarkets draw from behavioral economics to find ways to get people to pick up a certain item.   

Why is this relevant to food pantries?

In the context of a food pantry, “nudges” can be used to encourage shoppers to add more nutritious foods to their cart or basket.  This can involve adding signage next to a food item, grouping food items together, or even changing the layout or flow of a pantry. Other ways to “nudge” particular food items include:

  • Increasing convenience (e.g. raising bins so clients don’t have to bend over as far)
  • Placement (e.g. placing produce first in an aisle)
  • Multiple exposures (e.g. increasing the number of times a food item is placed throughout a pantry)
  • Priming (e.g. putting pictures of nutrient-dense foods in client waiting area)
  • Increasing visibility (e.g. placing canned beans at eye level instead of near the floor)

There can be many more ways to categorize “nutrition nudges”, but all are aimed at making the healthy choice the easy choice.

Feeding America’s Nutrition Nudge Research Study

In 2015, Feeding America partnered with Cornell University researchers to evaluate the effect of nudges at pantry sites affiliated with three Feeding America food banks. The hypothesis for this research was that “nudge interventions would increase a client’s take rate of Foods to Encourage (F2E) items in food pantries, which would in turn, help to increase the distribution of F2E items, reduce food waste and increase the likelihood of clients consuming healthful foods once at home”.1 Items that fall under the category of Foods to Encourage (F2E) are nutrient-rich, health-promoting foods such as fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, lean protein, and whole grains.

Results of this research showed that nudge interventions are effective: the number of clients who took F2E increased by 46% and the number of F2E items the average client took increased by over 55%. Take a look at the summary of their research here.

Healthy Pantry Nudges Project- Marion County

There has been an increased interest in applying nudge interventions in food banks/food pantries because these nudges are often inexpensive, they provide subtle nutrition information/education, and they assist in distributing low-take-rate items on pantry shelves.

Angel Gomez, IUPUI dietetic intern, has chosen to partner with Gleaners on this topic for his internship capstone project. Throughout his 4 weeks here, Angel has assessed the need and practicality of nudge interventions by visiting several food pantries in Marion County and surveying their clients, staff, and volunteers.

Pantry client survey results provided insight on the potential positive impact that nutrition nudges could have food choices and community health. Of the 130 survey participants from Gleaner’s Community Cupboard and St. Vincent De Paul Food Pantry:

  •  ​45% said they may choose to not pick up a food item in the pantry because they do not know what the food is
  • ​22% may not pick up an item because they do not know how to cook/prepare the item
  • Only 16% said that their meals consistently meet MyPlate guidelines
  • ​Over 50% said recipes and shelf tags would be helpful during pantry visits and about 30% said recipes and shelf tags may be helpful

In light of this and the results of Feeding America’s research, Angel has been working to create content for “shelf talkers”. These small tags, which can be placed directly next to products on pantry shelves, are designed to highlight the nutritional value of foods and offer practical information to help pantry clients make heathy choices. Gleaners hopes to build on Angel’s excellent work in the coming months by piloting “shelf talkers” and other nutrition nudges at a variety of programs, agencies, and other community partners. Through collaboration and innovation, we aim to help make the healthy choice the easy choice for our neighbors in need.

Nutrition Nudge

Shelf talker for quinoa. This is an example of a food item that may need a recipe along with the food item since it isn’t well-known.

1. Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice in Food Pantries. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://hungerandhealth.feedingamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/legacy/mp/files/tool_and_resources/files/fea-16-002-fea-nudgesreport-final.pdf