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Feeding America® defines a “nudge” as: a subtle environment change in a food distribution setting, designed to make a healthy choice the easy choice.

Cornell University’s Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs (BEN) and Feeding America conducted a study that found nudges to increase the likelihood a healthy food item was chosen by guests in a pantry setting by 46 percent.

There is increased interest in applying nudge interventions in food bank and food pantry environments because nudge interventions:

  • Provide subtle nutrition information/education;
  • require little or no cost; and
  • assist in distributing more healthy foods (Foods to Encourage).

If you are interested in learning more about nudge research or would like more tools on putting nudges into action please visit our nudge resources here.

Here are a few highlights from the evidence behind implementing nudges to encourage healthier food choices in the Feeding America network.

Placement Matters
Shoppers are less inclined to take items as their baskets fill up. For this reason, it is important to place Foods to Encourage early in a shopper’s path when their baskets are relatively empty.

Price Tags are Important
This is true even when the person choosing the food is not paying monetarily. A price tag signifies that an item is valuable. Research shows that when a product has a price tag, a shopper is one-third more likely to select the product over an item without a price tag.

Signage Helps
Waiting areas can be great places to encourage healthy food selection. Posters displaying attractive images of Foods to Encourage can lead shoppers to select the pictured items when they are making food choices.

Abundance Counts
The appearance of abundance also leads to greater selection. Showcasing Foods to Encourage will increase the amount of healthy food people select. It also means the opposite is true –decreasing the visibility of less-nutritious foods will limit their selection. When showcasing fresh produce, present items in containers that appear to be fully stocked. If a shelf, box or crate appears mostly empty, shoppers are more likely to pass up the contents.

Visibility is Key
Shoppers like to see the products they are choosing. Ensure the visibility of Foods to Encourage items by angling the food crate down so the crate’s lip does not obscure the shopper’s view. This truly showcases the product which can help increase its selection.

Nudges Readiness Factors Checklist

How do you know if nudge strategies are right for you? Here’s a simple checklist to know:

  • Does the food pantry have a client choice distribution style?
  • Is there a reliable supply of the food item to be nudged?
  • Is there sufficient client demand for healthier foods?
  • Is there an opportunity to nudge perishable healthy foods?
  • Is the cultural appropriateness of the food or the nudge being taken into account?
  • Is there interest in nutrition education but limited funding available?
  • Are different staff or volunteers within the organization aligned on nudges?
  • Are the organization’s policies supportive of using nudges to move healthy foods?