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Consumers spend less on unhealthy sweets and desserts when shopping online

Online shopping was associated with lower spending on certain unhealthy, impulse-prone foods.

According to a new study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior published by Elsevier, participants surveyed spent more money, bought more items, and spent less on sweets and desserts when shopping online than when they shopped in-store.

Online grocery shopping has grown exponentially in recent years. To describe the shopping patterns of people who shopped both online and in-store and evaluate whether shoppers bought less unhealthy, impulse-prone items online, 137 primary household shoppers in Maine who shopped at least once and shopped online (with ) were studied for a total of 5,573 transactions from 2015-2017.

“There were differences in both the amount and type of food purchased from online shopping compared to in-store.

When study participants shopped online, they spent about 44 percent more per transaction and bought a greater number and variety of foods.

items compared to when they shopped in the store,” said lead author Laura Zatz, ScD, MPH, Department of Nutrition and Department of Social & Behavioral Sciences, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA.

“We also found that online shopping was associated with lower spending per transaction on sweets, cold or frozen desserts, and grain-based desserts such as cookies and cake.”

When shopping online, participants surveyed spent more money, bought more items, and spent less on sweets and desserts than when they shopped in-store. Credit:

Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior Spending on sugary drinks and sweet and salty snacks didn’t change when consumers shopped online instead of in-store.

Researchers found that in-store shoppers spent an average of $2.50 more per transaction on sweets and desserts.

When looking at why there was no difference in the purchase of sweet and salty snacks and sugary drinks online versus in-store, researchers hypothesized that these items may not be as impulse-sensitive as originally anticipated, despite their prominent placement in end caps and cash register displays.

“For many in our sample, sugary drinks and snacks may have been a planned purchase. 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 Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“As more people buy their groceries online, it will be very important to understand how that affects the nutritional profile of the foods they buy,” said Dr. Zatz. “Encouragingly, our results suggest that online grocery shopping is associated with reduced spending on various unhealthy items.

However, we want to monitor shopping patterns to make sure that advanced online marketing tactics, such as personalized pop-up ads, don’t negate that.

” Assessing the evolution of marketing practices in the online supermarket environment will be an important area for future research, especially as more consumers shop online during the COVID-19 pandemic.