Impulse snack buys contradict healthy intentions, study

By Lindsey Partos

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

New product design for health-profiled snacks demands a clear message, as a new study demonstrates consumers may opt to ignore the healthy snack, despite what they say.

Snacks with a healthy profile are blossoming in terms of sales, but findings from the study by researchers at Wageningen University, The Netherlands, suggest there is plenty of room for further growth as consumers opt in theory for the healthful snack, but are in practice dictated to by their impulses.

When 585 office employees were asked to choose between four snacks – an apple, a banana, a confectionery bar and a molasses waffle – about half of the participants indicated they would choose the apple or banana ‘healthy’ snack.

But when presented, one week later, with the actual snacks, 27 per cent switched to the confectionery bar or waffle.

"A substantial gap between healthy snack choice intentions and actual behavior was demonstrated,"​ says investigator Pascalle Weijzen, from the division of human nutrition at the Dutch university.

In parallel, findings from their study showed that over 90 per cent of the unhealthy-choice participants stuck with their intentions and chose the unhealthy snack. This figure reveals the – albeit challenging – potential for health snack makers carrying the right, persuasive message to convert such consumers into 'healthful' buyers.

In a global snack market pitched to be worth €197.8bn by 2010, according to figures from Global Industry Analysts, manufacturers eager to keep ahead of the curve are tapping into health-profiled formulations.

Further, snack players that specifically target obesity solutions could fruitfully access this booming market slated to represent a massive $1.4 trillion by 2012.

But findings from the Wageningen University study, that revealed over one in four of the participants did not follow through their healthful indication with a ‘healthy’ choice, imply that actually attracting the consumer sufficiently to buy the product will be a key challenge.

Introducing the study and citing previous studies in this area, the researchers say that "intentions are usually under cognitive control, whereas actual choices are often made rather impulsively and even unconsciously".

They add that when decisions are under impulse control, "the desirability of immediate rewards, such as enjoyment, is high".

Further, if the consumer is hungry when actually making the snack choice, their hunger state could make any healthy intentions swiftly disappear.

However, at times, the link between intentions and actual behaviour is stronger.

"In terms of healthy eating behaviour, a strong positive attitude toward healthy eating, a high level of dietary restraint and regular consumption of healthy foods could increase the healthy intention-behavior consistency,"​ write the researchers in the September/October 2008 issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

They conclude that the "constructs evaluated"​ for their study do not sufficiently measure the "psychological process by which intention is converted into practice",​ stating that further studies are need in order to "further investigate"​ this complex process.

These studies should include "emotional eating and measures of pleasantness and consumption frequency of unhealthful foods to better understand their significance in choice consistency"​ conclude the scientists.

Source: Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior Volume 40, Issue 5 (September/October 2008)."Discrepancy Between Snack Choice Intentions and Behavior" ​Authors: Pascalle L.G. Weijzen, Cees de Graaf, Garmt B. Dijksterhuis

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