Pre-ordering groceries can help curb unhealthy impulse buys

Pre-ordering groceries can help curb unhealthy impulse buys

Pre-ordering groceries for pickup or delivery is popular for a lot of reasons, convenience chief among them. But can it also lead to a healthier eating? Can it keep you from the impulse buys that seem to occur as you push your shopping cart along the potato chip aisle?

Scientists at the University of Southern California devised a study based on the theory that the food people choose to eat in the future isn’t what they want in the moment to satisfy their cravings. In other words, would people put different, or healthier, items in their pre-order cart than what they would put in their shopping cart to eat on the way home?

The team visited grocery stores in Los Angeles and Chicago, where they asked 400 shoppers to complete a questionnaire. As a reward, the participants could select 10 items from a group of 20, food that would be delivered a week later. Some of the food was healthy, such as fruits and vegetables, but there were also cookies, potato chips and candy bars.

When the team delivered the groceries the following week, they allowed people to change their order. Nearly half of the participants made at least one exchange, always opting for items higher in calories, fat and sugar.

The team later asked the participants if they wanted to stick with their pre-ordered decisions or did they want to be able to make changes. More than half chose the choice option. Those who wanted to make changes also were more likely to want to quit the pre-ordering program.

The team concluded that pre-ordering can help people make healthier choices, and a good strategy would be to give shoppers incentives to try it. These shoppers might be the ones who could benefit the most from it.

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