Fresh Food

Do consumers make healthier food choices when buying online?

Photograph: Shutterstock

In 2016, it was estimated that only about 4% of all groceries sold in the U.S. were purchased online. That figure is expected to reach 20%, if not more, within the next ten years.

As those numbers grow, retailers are starting to gain some insight into the purchasing habits of online consumers. One that is proving most notable is that when U.S. consumers purchase groceries online from major grocery store retailers, they tend to purchase healthier items. That is one conclusion of an upcoming study, “The Effect of Online Shopping on Grocery Demand,” by Katherine A. Harris.

Harris’ study included 34,000 households whose online grocery store purchasing habits were evaluated for nearly three years. Among her findings were the following:

  • Online grocery shoppers tend to spend $49 more per month compared to in-store shoppers.
  • Households are less price-sensitive and less inclined to search for less costly food alternatives when shopping online.
  • Online grocery shoppers spend about 6% more on what are called “nutritious items” such as dairy, fruit, meat, and vegetables.
  • Online grocery shoppers cut back almost 10% on less nutritious items such as drinks, oils, snacks, and desserts.

Among the reasons for these findings, according to Harris, is that shoppers have fewer distractions. This results in more time to make more nutritious food selections. For instance, she pointed out that shoppers did not have to grapple with noise, restless children and other distractions including marketing suggestions implemented by product placement programs used in many grocery stores. In some cases, product placement food items may not be the most nutritious items in a product category.

Additionally, Harris suggests that because the “online shopping experience is less distracting than the in-store shopping experience, households may be able to exercise more self-control over their purchases.” This is likely why online consumers purchased far fewer snacks and desserts.

A key takeaway of the study is that, for grocery store retailers today—and in the future—“online purchasing would likely lead to increased revenues.”

But what about physical retailers?

According to Jill Carte with DayMark Safety Systems, which is a provider of kitchen automation and menu management systems, seeing an increase in revenues at traditional brick-and-mortar establishments depends on providing the types of food offerings purchasers are looking for online.

“Because it appears online purchasers are taking the time to look for healthier food choices, the best way to take advantage of this buying opportunity is to make sure physical retailers make those items available and visible,” according to Carte. “This applies not just to fruits and vegetables, but store-prepared items as well.”

For instance, Carte suggests that if a consumer has a choice between a grab-and-go food item that is high in calories and one that is significantly lower in calories, “they most likely will take the time to read the label and select the healthier alternative. This is essentially what the study is telling us and why retailers must ensure these items are prominently available.”

According to Carte, menu management systems, now used in many grocery stores, school cafeterias and restaurants, help foodservice professionals adjust menus to maximize the nutritional benefits of the food they serve.

One such example is the Nutritics Insight system, offered as part of DayMark’s MenuPilot kitchen automation platform. Nutritics offers a vast food database that helps kitchen staff create healthy recipes by indicating ways to reduce unhealthy content such as fat and sodium.

“The Nutritics solution allows users to analyze more than 60 individual nutrients,” says Carte. “It performs analysis in seconds and remembers your information to make it even easier to assess dishes and recipes.”

Carte adds, “If this study proves correct, we can expect menu management systems like Nutritics to play a much greater role in grocery store operations—both online and physical—in the future.”

This post is sponsored by DayMark Safety Systems