Study: List sugary sodas last and people won't order as many

Photo: champlifezy@gmail.com (iStock)

Under the Golden Arches, the winds of change are a’blowing. As McDonald’s looks to keep pace with the competition and further automate the whole fast food process, it’s also been making numerous changes to its menu options, for reasons both economic and health-conscious. Already McDonald’s has removed cheeseburgers and sodas as default Happy Meal options, although both can still be purchased upon request. The removal of sodas from the primary menu had a noticeable impact, with roughly half of all Happy Meal orders instead opting for milk or water.

Now, a U.K. study conducted using the chain’s touchscreen order boards (you know, the ones covered in... stuff) has found that the order in which soda options are offered to consumers has a direct effect on their purchasing habits. Researchers at the University of Warwick’s business school used the touchscreens to gather sales data at 622 stores for 12 weeks with the chain’s standard menu settings, which promote Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Sprite Zero, Oasis, and Fanta in that order. The study then moved Coke Zero to the top position, and regular Coca-Cola to the very last position, for another 12 weeks.

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During that six-month period, researchers found that when Coke Zero was listed first, orders increased substantially: “Comparing sales data from the week prior to the order change to the week after, the researchers note an approximate 10% reduction in the consumption of Coca-Cola and 20% increase in the consumption of Coke Zero.” With respect to the study at large, “Comparing the full 12 weeks of pre- and post-intervention sales data, the researchers find an 8% reduction in Coca-Cola consumption and a 30% increase in the selection of Coke Zero.” It’s a little bit about ballot position theory: People are more likely to vote for the first name listed on the ballot.

As the authors conclude, “The present study demonstrates that a light‐touch, low‐cost nudge can decrease how often a sugary soft drink is purchased and increase how often a no sugar soft drink is purchased.” While this might seem like a bit of an oh-duh notion to some, the study demonstrates that convincing many consumers to drink a less sugary soda could be as simple as putting a different choice in front of them right away. After all, if there’s a fundamental truth about human beings, it’s that we are deeply lazy animals as often as we can be, and want to consider nitpicky decisions as little as possible.

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