said lead author Laura Zatz, ScD, MPH, Department of Nutrition and Department of Social & Behavioral Sciences, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA.
‘Consumers used online grocery shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic and during this time, there has been reduced spending on several unhealthy items.’
“We also found that shopping online was associated with reduced spending per transaction on candy, cold or frozen desserts, and grain-based desserts like cookies and cake.”
Spending on sugary drinks and sweet and salty snacks did not change when consumers were shopping online versus in-store. Researchers found that in-store shoppers were spending an average of $2.50 more per transaction on candy and desserts.
When considering why there was no difference in the online versus in-store purchase of sweet and salty snacks and sugary drinks, researchers hypothesized that these items may not be as impulse-sensitive as originally anticipated despite their prominent placement in endcaps and checkout displays.
“Sugary drinks and snacks might have been a planned purchase for many in our study sample. That would fit with other industry research showing that neither sweet and salty snacks nor sugary drinks are in the top five categories of unplanned food purchases,” said senior author Eric Rimm, ScD, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“With more people buying their groceries online, it will be really important to understand how that impacts the nutritional profile of the foods they purchase,” Dr. Zatz said.
“Encouragingly, our results suggest that online grocery shopping is associated with reduced spending on several unhealthy items. However, we’ll want to monitor shopping patterns to make sure sophisticated online marketing tactics, like personalized pop-up ads, don’t override that.”
Assessing the evolution of marketing practices in the online grocery setting will be an important area for future inquiry, especially as more consumers use online grocery shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic.