Increase sales, add excitement to the store, and you're set. Easy. But a column by Peter Ubel on Forbes.com discusses how one’s willpower effects how a person responds to the taste of food. Grasping this concept in full just may change the ways in which stores offer food samples to influence customers –– and make them more effective in the end.
Ubel writes that there's a trade-off consumers are faced with when deciding what to eat. Some foods are bad for our health but satisfy us with their taste. All of us have limited willpower, and when we're exhausted, unhealthier foods become more difficult to resist.
Think about it: How many shoppers are exercising their best willpower when they're rushing up and down the aisles of their local grocery store?
In a study led by Nicolette Sullivan, from Caltech, the California Institute of Technology, researchers placed consumers in front of computer screens and gave them pictures of two foods, asking them which one they would most like to eat. Instead of looking only at which food people eventually chose, researchers looked at a the wandering of the cursor. One example of some of the behaviors sampled was how a participant might first start directing the cursor towards the doughnut before swerving it in the direction of the salad. That pattern would suggest that the person’s early preferences were for the doughnut, but were later overridden by other considerations.
On average, people respond to tastiness faster than healthiness – about 9 percent faster– and it looks like tastiness has an unfair head start in influencing our choices. The researchers also note that when people are most in need of help in curbing their worst appetites, a food's tastiness tends to hold an even more unfair advantage.
Take a look at the results of the foods you sample. Which do better? Tasty indulgence? Healthier offerings? If it’s the former, it might tell us that the opportunity for CPG and retail exists in taking a look at the conditions (store and shopping conditions especially) under which customers sample foods.
Stores may find better success with a variety of samples offered at in-store locations. They might also affect sales by considering when they offer samples of healthier foods they want to sell, such as as times of the day when shoppers are more relaxed and not as hungry. Better yet, stores can make sure that the signage at the demo table contains information about the product that's useful for customers -- something more than just a dollar bill-sized coupon.