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April 25, 2017

Want people to eat healthy? Time tax vending machines

By GlobalData Consumer

How long would you wait for a bag of potato chips from a vending machine?

A study out last month from the Chicago-based Rush University Medical Center found that adding a 25-second time delay before a non-healthy snack is dispensed from a vending machine was enough to fuel a measurable increase in healthy snack sales.

The introduction of a 25-second delay for unhealthy snacks yielded a two percent five percent increase in sales of healthier stuff.

One major surprise from the study was that the 25-second delay did not harm total sales volume or overall vending revenue for the machine, suggesting consumers can be nudged to make healthier choices without harming vending machine owners in the process.

The vending machine also features an LED screen that displays the delay time and counts down the time to delivery. People are free to change their choice to a healthier option during the countdown.

At present, there are 1.3m snack vending machines in the US.

According to the study authors:

[Vending machines are the] most prevent source of high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods in the US. The beneficial effect on snack choice was about as large as that seen with discounts, but unlike discounts, time delays do not harm the total revenue of vending machines.

Given the controversial nature of strategies like sugar taxes that encourage healthful choices through the brute force of economics, a time tax could be a more viable, less controversial, and less obtrusive “dietary intervention strategy” for the food and beverage industry.