The effects of nudging and pricing on healthy food purchasing behavior in a virtual supermarket setting: a randomized experiment

Jody C. Hoenink, Joreintje D. Mackenbach, Wilma Waterlander, Jeroen Lakerveld, Nynke van der Laan, Joline W.J. Beulens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Evidence on what strategies - or combination of strategies - are most effective and equitable in promoting healthier diets is needed. This study examined the efficacy of nudging and pricing strategies on increasing healthy food purchases and the potential differential effect by socio-economic position (SEP) among Dutch adults in a virtual supermarket. METHODS: A randomized study design was conducted within a virtual supermarket (SN VirtuMart). Participants were exposed to five within-subject study conditions (control, nudging, pricing, price salience and price salience with nudging) and randomized to one of three between-subject study arms (a 25% price increase on unhealthy products, a 25% discount on healthy products, or a 25% price increase and discount). In total, 455 participants of low and high SEP (using either education or income as proxy) were randomized to conduct their weekly shopping in a virtual supermarket for five consecutive weeks. The primary outcome included the percentage of healthy purchases. Data were analyzed using linear mixed models. RESULTS: In total, 346 (76%) adults completed all five shops within the SN VirtuMart. Median age was 32.5, 49.2% had high education and 32.8% had high income. Out of the 12 conditions, four conditions were statistically significantly different from the control condition. Nudging and non-salient pricing strategies alone did not statistically significantly increase healthy food purchases, whereas a combination of salient price increases and discounts led to an increase in the percentage of healthy food purchases (B 4.5, 95%CI 2.6; 6.4). Combining salient pricing and nudging strategies led to increases in the percentage of healthy products in all three pricing arms, with largest effects found in the combined price increase and discount arm (B = 4.0, 95%CI = 2.0; 6.0). Effects were not modified by SEP. CONCLUSIONS: Combining health-related price increases and discounts and combining these salient pricing strategies with nudges in a supermarket setting seems to stimulate healthy food purchases for both low and high SEP populations. However, further research in real-world settings is needed. TRIAL REGISTRATION: This randomized trial ( NTR7293 ) was registered in the Dutch trial registry ( ).

Original languageEnglish
Article number98
Pages (from-to)98
Number of pages12
JournalThe International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 3 Aug 2020


  • Food purchases
  • Intervention study
  • Policy intervention
  • Price decreases
  • Randomized trial
  • Socio-economic inequalities
  • Subsidies
  • Taxes


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