Nudging Kids to Healthier Eating
As any parent knows, getting kids to eat vegetables can be a herculean task. It’s also one worth undertaking because of the role vegetables can play in living a healthier life.
With that end goal in mind, Associate Marketing Professor Joe Redden and a team of University researchers partnered with a local school district that had been previously unsuccessful in its attempts to increase vegetable consumption and turned a cafeteria into a laboratory.
Standing behind the lunch counter offering vegetables to unreceptive grade schoolers during a logistics test, Redden realized explicit and direct efforts to teach kids the benefits of vegetables weren’t going to work.
“We decided to take a different route in the idea of nudges,” recalls Redden. “How can we change the situation such that kids still have free choice, but we’re encouraging them to choose vegetables more often of their own will?”
After testing larger portion sizes that led to an increase in overall consumption but not a greater adoption of vegetable eating across more children, the researchers tried an approach that Redden has used in his own home—serving vegetables first and in isolation.
“If I’m a kid and I see green beans versus chicken nuggets, green beans are never going to win,” says Redden. “So let’s stop putting green beans next to other good things.”
In one study, hungry kids discovered cups of vegetables awaiting them as they arrived at the cafeteria or were standing in line. Without any encouragement or messaging, the researchers saw the number of kids choosing vegetables jumped from less than 10 percent to three, four, and even five times that rate.
“Clearly it’s not that kids won’t ever consider vegetables,” says Redden. “Instead, you can do it in a more subtle manner where they almost feel an obligation of ‘You’ve given me this gift of vegetables. I should eat a little of it.’ Sure enough, we found that they would eat some under those conditions.”
The Hidden Role of Resellers
Think of the last time you walked into a bicycle shop. Rows of shiny new bikes sporting the best combination of components available. Did you notice how few were outfitted with parts from just one manufacturer? We’re used to thinking about bikes in terms of manufacturers’ brands. However, there’s a player that often sits between manufacturers and consumers who have a significant—and relatively unstudied—impact on the marketplace: resellers.
Bikes are just one example. This is happening everywhere end products use components from multiple sources. From consumer electronics to medical devices, from cell phones to industrial paints, more and more of the offerings you see are created by resellers using components from multiple manufacturers.
“These industries are all populated with resellers who add value to end consumers,” says Professor Mark Bergen. “And that makes them a major force.”
Bergen, his Marketing Department colleague Professor George John, and their former PhD student Sourav Ray studied how resellers shape these markets in a massive field study of the industrial paints industry. They found that while manufacturers still might be the heavyweights, they can’t afford to be heavy-handed in their dealings with resellers because those resellers control the means of access to consumers.
“If the manufacturer had its way, the combinations available to consumers would likely be limited to only its offerings, but reality turns out to be a little different because of the business practices and incentives of this guy sitting in the middle,” says John.
Bergen says manufacturers need to ask themselves how to play together in a way that makes sense for the reseller and also makes sense for them and the marketplace.
“If you’re a manufacturer, resellers are your friends,” he adds. “You shouldn’t try to jam all your components down their throats and say, ‘Sell all of my stuff or I’m not playing ball with you.’”
"Manufacturers should give up the notion that somebody is going to buy every single one of their components to create an all-Sony or HP system. Most people want some degree of mixing and matching. Manufacturers should be able to appreciate that and not use these coercive tactics.”
- GEORGE JOHN, PROFESSOR, GENERAL MILLS/PAUL S. GEROT CHAIR IN MARKETING
Instead, the researchers suggest manufacturers ally with resellers by encouraging them and subsidizing them to meet consumer needs—not their own.
“If you’re a big company that’s producing innovative new technologies and solutions, you can’t only think of how they will add to possibilities for your end customers,” says John. “You also need to think very carefully about how those solutions will actually get to those customers.”
“Understanding Value-Added Resellers’ Assortments of Multicomponent Systems” Ray, S., Bergen, M., John, G., Journal of Marketing, (2016)