Joseph Redden in front of black screen drawing with a light pen

Looking at Potential New Tools for Online Grocery Shopping

Monday, November 15, 2021

Online grocery shopping has grown rapidly across the country. Thanks in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more people are now choosing to buy their groceries on the web instead of in a store.

As online grocery shopping increases, so too does interest in ways this new shopping platform may be leveraged for the benefit of public health.

Joseph Redden, the Curtis L. Carlson Chair in Marketing Analytics, along with other University of Minnesota professors at the School of Public Health, surveyed people around the Twin Cities to gauge their interest in a variety of potential online features that may help them choose healthy eating options for the exploratory paper “Designing online grocery stores to support healthy eating for weight loss,” which was published in the journal Public Health Nutrition.

The study is the first to use a customer-centric approach to generate ideas for features that may be included in online grocery shopping marketplaces to support healthy food choices for weight loss.

“With close to half of American adults trying to lose weight, online grocers have the opportunity to meet the needs of a large market segment by designing their online grocery marketplaces to support healthier food choices,” Redden says. The researchers asked participants about four possible online features:

  • Shopping cart nutrition rating tool: A tool that provides a nutrition rating of foods in a shopper’s online cart, using a star rating system. As part of the rating tool, suggestions for improving the nutrition quality of one’s cart are provided in an interactive process while shopping. In addition, a shopper’s cart nutrition ratings over time would be plotted so that progress from past food purchases may be tracked by the shopper.
  • Healthy meal planning tool: This tool supports healthy meal planning and the ordering of foods needed for the meals through a weekly email sent to customers that includes a list of suggested meals tailored to the customer’s personal nutrition goals, food preferences, food budget, and family size. The email also includes links to add the ingredients directly to the shopping cart to make the process more efficient (and less prone to other temptations).
  • Interactive healthy eating inspiration aisle: The interactive healthy eating inspiration aisle provides an online “aisle” designed to help shoppers discover products and meal ideas that align with their health and nutrition goals. The aisle is designed to be fun and interactive.
  • Healthy shopping preference settings: The healthy shopping preference settings allow an online grocery shopper the option to set up nutrition-related shopping preferences that prioritize displaying and advertising foods that align with personal health and nutrition goals. A shopper who specifies particular nutrition goals will experience an online shopping environment designed to support those preferences.

“With close to half of American adults trying to lose weight, online grocers have the opportunity to meet the needs of a large market segment by designing their online grocery marketplaces to support healthier food choices.”

Professor Joseph Redden in front of black screen drawing with a light pen

Of the four, the healthy meal planning tool has been of interest to Redden. Though this work is in the exploratory phase, Redden could see finding a way to incorporate that into further research on the subject.

“It’s not obvious that customers would be open to some of these changes,” he says. “But I would love to play with the healthy meal planning tool, and just see how satisfied people are with it. Can you get them to stay with it? Because I think that’s always the worry.”

More research is needed on the topic, Redden says, because there will need to be much more proof before anything hits the market.

“It’s not obvious that customers would latch on to these things,” Redden says. “Not to mention, if a business were to implement some of these tools, there’s a massive investment. Changing websites is not easy. It’s risky. And so we’re trying to figure out what we want our strategy to be for this going forward.


“Designing Online Grocery Stores to Support Healthy Eating for Weight Loss”
French, S., Harnack, L., Redden, J., Rivera, G., Sherwood, N., Tahir, M., and Valluri, S., Public Health Nutrition, (2021)

Fall 2021 Discovery magazine cover

This article appeared in the Fall 2021 Discovery magazine

In this issue, Carlson School faculty research explores a new way to look at team conflicts, the future of artificial intelligence, and how pre-purchase information affects consumer buying.

Fall 2021 table of contents

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