10 ways to apply shopper and consumer psychology, category management and retail merchandising to your own lockdown home
I'm Phillip Adcock, shopper psychologist and behavioural science expert. For more than 20 years, I've worked with leading brands and retailers helping them improve their in-store appeal, shopper engagement levels and ultimately sales.
I have amassed a database of more than 1,500 psychological and behavioural science-based insights that influence people's perceptions, decision-making, and subsequently propensity to purchase. A lot of my research and insight has been conducted within food retail. I've worked with 62 of the top 100 brands, helping them with category management and optimising the individual appeal of their products in-store and online.
Because we are all living through quite extraordinary times, I want to do something, however small, to put my psychological expertise to good use. I have spent the last few weeks reviewing psychological literature and extracting practical information that can be of real benefit to us as we work from home in our lockdown environments.
What is apparent is that many of us could and should be mindful of our food and drink consumption at the moment. With the current lockdown, many are snacking that little bit more, visiting the fridge a bit more often and overall, consuming a little bit more food.
Because I have a proven track record of altering shopper and consumer behaviour, and decision making, I want to help you redesign your home lockdown environment to help you not just maintain your weight but to lose a few pounds. And the best thing of all is that because we're going to be using proven psychology, there will be a minimal cognitive effort on your part. Intrigued? Please, read on.
Every day, we each make around 200 decisions about eating. But studies have shown that 90% of these decisions are made without any conscious choice. It follows that if we can subtly alter these eating decisions, then our food intake will change too: All without any conscious effort.
Creating your foodscape
To begin with, let me define what I mean by foodscape. The word foodscape is a combination of two words. Food and landscape. Firstly, the word food needs no explanation, I'm sure. Then there is 'scape' as in landscape that denotes "an extensive view, scenery," or "a picture or representation" of such a view, as specified by the initial element: cityscape, moonscape, seascape, and now foodscape. In summary, what does all the food look like in your home? How does that appearance influence what and when you eat?
Let's take the science that is used to persuade us to buy food and drink and turn it on its head. Let's use it to actively help us eat just a little bit more healthily.
What follows are ten proven ways to subtly alter your lockdown environment foodscape so that you cut down on the calories, sugar and fat you consume.
Rest assured, this article isn't about not eating the great food you love, just some subtle changes you can easily make to help you eat a little bit less. By reducing your intake by 50-100 calories a day will result in an average weight loss of more than 10lbs in a year. So let's begin.
1, Flip the fridge
Most refrigerators have the salad and vegetable compartments at the bottom. Therefore, all the healthy stuff is out of your immediate sightline, and hardest to reach when you open the fridge door. So start by 'remerchandising' your fridge. Put the healthier snacking options, such as perhaps carrot sticks and sliced ham on the eye-level shelves.
Move all those calorific temptations, like chocolate bars and fizzy drinks as far away from your eyes and hands as possible. This technique gives your System 2 brain time to dissuade System 1 from snacking on that unhealthy bar of chocolate. By having the time to think twice, you'll be amazed at how often you find yourself going for the healthier option.
There's a great deal of science involved in supermarket design. Where should different chillers go in-store? What products should go next to which others in the chilled aisle, etc?
It's time to add some consumer psychology to your fridge.
2, Flip your food store
Just as with the fridge, take a look at the cupboards and larders where you store food in your home. What is the easiest to see and reach? We need to make it easier to grab the healthy stuff and more difficult to snaffle the indulgent treats. Think 'good, better, best, but from a healthy eating perspective.
Start by making sure that the healthiest foods are between eye and waist height. Then move the really indulgent stuff as far away as possible: To the very top shelves, the very bottom shelves and definitely to the back. Once again, we're giving our brains time to come to a healthier choice. Just like when you go to the supermarket and the stuff they want you to buy is bang there between eye and waist height, so easy to impulse purchase. We're now applying the same consumer psychology to our lockdown foodscape.
3, The 6 feet rule (or 2 metres)
During this current pandemic, we've all been made acutely aware of social distancing. For reference, 2 metres (or 6 feet) is the length of 2 shopping trolleys… or a cow.
When it comes to redesigning your lockdown foodscape, move temptation at least 2 metres away. Move that doughnut off your desk and put it on the other side of the room. In a recent research project, secretaries who had chocolates on their desks each consumed 225 more calories per day than those who moved the sweet treats to the opposite side of their office.
Retailers are experts at using consumer psychology to make it easy for you to buy things. I'm using the same science to make it just a bit harder for you to consume the unhealthy things you buy.
4, We eat with our eyes first
A sure-fire way of being tempted to snack is merely seeing the snacks. So, study your lockdown foodscape and hide from view all temptations. Put the biscuits out of any see-through jar and repackage them in an opaque container, ideally behind a cupboard or pantry door. Replace any sweet treats in view with fresh fruit. Once again, by doing this, you are subtly giving your brain different temptation cues.
Retailers and brands know how to use their packaging to make their products as appealing as possible. They know just the right images, colours and copy to get us salivating and buying. And it works, too. Applying this logic to our foodscape environment means doing the opposite: Put temptation out of sight. Either hide those beautiful packs or better still, decant the contents into plain containers (ideally opaque as I said earlier).
5, Change the context
Researchers have identified that if you serve yourself out of a large container, say a big box of breakfast cereal; you take more than if you serve yourself from a smaller pack. Most of us know that buying larger packs is often better value for money. But unfortunately, to our brains, it is just an excuse to eat more.
As we optimise our lockdown foodscape, decant large packs into a number of smaller packs. This way, as scientists have proved, serving yourself results in you taking less per serving. It has worked with M&Ms, popcorn and many other foods in research studies, so give it a try.
6, The Idaho plate method
This technique is another well-known by psychologists (and dieticians) around the globe.
The Idaho Plate Method works by visualising how much space each of the major food groups should occupy on your plate. At breakfast, 25% of the plate should have a protein or meat, 50% of the plate should have a starch, and 25% of the plate should be empty.
At lunch and dinner, the plate should show a similar pattern: 25% of the plate should have a starch, 25% should have a protein or a meat source, and 50% should be filled with low-calorie vegetables (not "starchy" vegetables, such as potatoes or peas).
If you want to be really strict with yourself, take a permanent marker and draw sections on your plate (but do check that the marker isn't toxic). This will help you further resist over-serving and prompt you at each meal about your new foodscape guidelines.
7, Tuning forks
We all know how to eat, right? Absolutely, and it is as natural to most of us as breathing or walking about. So much so that our eating (and drinking) has become entirely automatic and habitual.
Our new lockdown foodscape needs some habit changing to be introduced. And to begin with, let's look at the crockery and cutlery you use. Give yourself a big plate or large bowl, and you'll fill it, take a slightly smaller plate, and you'll still fill it. But the smaller plate holds fewer calories.
The same thinking applies to cutlery – A large fork can hold more calories than a slightly smaller fork. Even the serving spoons can make a difference. If you are used to piling 3 spoons of spag bol onto your pasta, then by simply replacing the serving spoon with a slightly smaller utensil will result in you serving slightly less.
This explains why stores want us to use baskets and trolleys. Because it means we can carry/buy more. In one study, when a convenience store gave shoppers a basket in their hand as they entered the store, the average amount each person spent increased by 48%
8, Drink up… ..not out
Did you know that the shape of the glass you drink out of influences how much you drink? In one study, researchers gave experienced bartenders either tall, thin schooner type glasses or shorter, broader tumblers and asked them to pour a single measure of spirits into each. Consistently, those using the shorter glasses poured more (27% more). So if you have a glass of wine in the evening, switch that massive wine glass for a taller, narrower champagne flute.
While we're talking of drinks, try to take ice with it. The more ice, the fuller the glass, but the less the calories. What's more, researchers have identified that iced drinks burn more calories to consume. Why? Because our bodies have to heat up to melt the ice inside us. Every little helps!
9, 20 minutes of calorie stuffing
Scientists have identified that we continue to eat for as long as 20 minutes after our stomachs think were 'full'. This is mainly because we still have food on our plate. Most of us as children had it drilled into us that we had to stay at the dinner table until our plate was empty. But nowadays, plates have got bigger and we fill them with more.
Consider this subtle change as you serve up your meal. Once the plate is full, throw some of it in the bin (as much as you think reasonable). Because at the end of the meal, your stomach will be full, but there won't be any more on the plate, and so you'll stop eating and therefore consume fewer calories.
A group of consumers managed to effectively reduce their average consumption per meal by simply putting an upturned ramekin on the plate before they loaded it with food. Less available food space means less senseless calorie stuffing.
10, Be a messy eater
Whatever your food temptations during working from home and lockdown, be sure to keep the evidence in view for as long as possible. Don't go hiding each sweet wrapper the moment you have consumed that treat. Refrain from throwing the chicken wing bones in the bin right after eating them. Leave them in view for a while. If you are sat at a desk, leave the 'debris' in sight until the end of the day.
This technique plays on guilt, and your brain soon starts to realise just how much rubbish it has helped you devour. In one research study, participants consumed 28% less when the waste was left in view as opposed to being cleared away immediately
SummaryFor the past 25 years, I have analysed shopper and consumer psychology in more than 20 Countries. I have worked with leading retailers and brands to make their offering more shopper and consumer-friendly. Quite simply, the easier it is for consumers to shop, the more they like the experience and the more they buy.The same is true for eating: The easier it is the more we tend to do it.
When it comes to controlling what we eat and drink, our brains, hard-wired by evolution, work very much against us. We have created a consumer world that is at odds with how we have evolved as a species. As a result, resisting temptation is harder than it should be. We're constantly bombarded with temptation, and all too often, we succumb.
By making subtle changes to your lockdown foodscape, you can dramatically alter your eating habits. And here's the best thing, if you make small adjustments to your foodscape (reducing by just around 150 calories per day), your brain won't realise and so won't fight back. By the way, decreasing by only 150 calories per day is equivalent to nearly 55,000 calories in a year: That's an impressive 16lb – More than a stone, without trying!
In this piece, I've looked at consumption through the eyes and stomachs of us who work from home and or are currently locked down. May I end by saying that when it comes to changing our consumption habits, it's not so much about doing one thing very differently, but more about taking many things and doing each of them a tiny bit differently.
This is precisely what happened with the British cycling team, thanks largely to Dave Brailsford and the theory of marginal gains
"The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together" Dave Brailsford (2012)
You can apply precisely the same thinking to your lockdown foodscape. It's time to look beyond traditional diets because we are living in far from traditional times.
Thanks for reading, stay safe and keep well.