Ulterior Motives?

Supermarket dietitians take note: New research reveals that a successful venture down the aisles begins not with a shopping list, but before pen is even put to paper. A list is only as good as the things on the list, said Lyle Brenner, a marketing professor at the University of Florida and part of the team that conducted three different experiments examining how people make choices. Conventional wisdom

Supermarket dietitians take note: New research reveals that a successful venture down the aisles begins not with a shopping list, but before pen is even put to paper.

“A list is only as good as the things on the list,” said Lyle Brenner, a marketing professor at the University of Florida and part of the team that conducted three different experiments examining how people make choices.

Conventional wisdom has long dictated that a faithfully followed shopping list helps consumers withstand the pull of impulsive purchases at shelf level. It's why dietitians are so keen on getting participants in a diabetes store tour, for instance, to write out their intended purchases before they set foot in the supermarket.

This recent set of experiments betrays what could be a fatal flaw: Most lists are generated from memory, and therein lies the problem.

“Memory-based lists tended to favor indulgent, fun items,” Brenner said. The studies showed consumers actually made more healthful decisions when they are “stimuli-based,” such as at the point of purchase, where better-for-you products are sold beside the more indulgent choices.

“To the extent that supermarkets can provide a variety of options for consumers, the greater chance they'll help consumers make more head-level choices,” Brenner said.