Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Order of meals at the counter and distance between options affect student cafeteria vegetarian sales

Abstract

Altering the order in which meals are presented at cafeteria counters has been proposed as a way of lowering meat consumption, but remains largely untested. To address this, we undertook two experimental studies involving 105,143 meal selections in the cafeterias of a British university. Placing vegetarian options first on the counter consistently increased their sales when choices were widely separated (>1.5 m; vegetarian sales as a percentage of total meal sales increased by 4.6 and 6.2 percentage points) but there was no evidence of an effect when the options were close together (<1.0 m). This suggests that order effects depend on the physical distance between options.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Effects of order and distance on vegetarian sales.

Data availability

Data for the results in this paper can be found at https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.41481.

Code availability

The code used for this analysis is available from the corresponding author on request.

References

  1. 1.

    Poore, J. & Nemecek, T. Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science 992, 987–992 (2018).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Bryngelsson, D., Wirsenius, S., Hedenus, F. & Sonesson, U. How can the EU climate targets be met? A combined analysis of technological and demand-side changes in food and agriculture. Food Policy 59, 152–164 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Lehner, M., Mont, O. & Heiskanen, E. Nudging—a promising tool for sustainable consumption behaviour? J. Clean. Prod. 134, 166–177 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Thaler, R. & Sunstein, C. Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness (Penguin, 2009).

  5. 5.

    Bianchi, F., Garnett, E., Dorsel, C., Aveyard, P. & Jebb, S. A. Restructuring physical micro-environments to reduce the demand for meat: a systematic review with qualitative comparative analysis. Lancet Planet. Health 2, e384–e397 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Hollands, G. J. et al. Altering the availability or proximity of food, alcohol and tobacco products to change their selection and consumption. Cochrane Database Syst. Rev. 9, CD012573 (2019).

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Meiselman, H. L., Hedderley, D., Staddon, S. L., Pierson, B. J. & Symonds, C. R. Effect of effort on meal selection and meal acceptability in a student cafeteria. Appetite 23, 43–55 (1994).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Kurz, V. Nudging to reduce meat consumption: immediate and persistent effects of an intervention at a university restaurant. J. Environ. Econ. Manage. 90, 317–341 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Garnett, E. E., Balmford, A., Sandbrook, C., Pilling, M. A. & Marteau, T. M. Impact of increasing vegetarian availability on meal selection and sales in cafeterias. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 116, 20923–20929 (2019).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Garnett, E. E., Balmford, A., Sandbrook, C., Pilling, M. A. & Marteau, T. M. Impact of increasing vegetarian availability on meal selection and sales in cafeterias. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 116, 201907207 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Campbell-Arvai, V., Arvai, J. & Kalof, L. Motivating sustainable food choices: the role of nudges, value orientation, and information provision. Environ. Behav. 46, 453–475 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Gravert, C. & Kurz, V. Nudging à la carte—a field experiment on climate-friendly food choice. Behav. Pub. Pol. 3, 1–18 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Kongsbak, I. et al. Increasing fruit and vegetable intake among male university students in an ad libitum buffet setting: a choice architectural nudge intervention. Food Qual. Prefer. 49, 183–188 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Cohen, J. F. W. et al. Effects of choice architecture and chef-enhanced meals on the selection and consumption of healthier school foods. JAMA Pediatr. 169, 431 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Greene, K. N., Gabrielyan, G., Just, D. R. & Wansink, B. Fruit-promoting smarter lunchrooms interventions: results from a cluster RCT. Am. J. Prev. Med. 52, 451–458 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Wansink, B. & Hanks, A. S. Slim by design: serving healthy foods first in buffet lines improves overall meal selection. PLoS ONE 8, e77055 (2013).

  17. 17.

    Simmons, J. P., Nelson, L. D. & Simonsohn, U. False-positive psychology: undisclosed flexibility in data collection and analysis allows presenting anything as significant. Psychol. Sci. 22, 1359–1366 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Uniware (Uniware, 2019); http://www.uniware.co.uk/

  19. 19.

    R Core Team R: A Language and Environment for Statistical Computing (R Foundation for Statistical Computing, 2020); https://www.R-project.org/

Download references

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by E.E.G.’s NERC studentship grant number NE/L002507/1 and A.B.’s Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit award. We thank Ivan, Danielle and Ian for participating and generously contributing their time and the cafeterias’ data. We thank G. Stewart, J. Williams and J. Chambers for assisting with monitoring fidelity to protocol; B. Simmons, K. Saunders and D.-L. Couturier for assistance with analyses and coding in R; and R. Pechey, E. Cartwright, G. Hollands and M. Vasiljevic for their advice in setting up the experiment and interpreting our findings. We thank K. Nielsen for his feedback on drafts of this manuscript.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

E.E.G., A.B., C.S. and T.M.M. designed the research; E.E.G. performed the research; E.E.G. and M.A.P. analysed the data; and E.E.G., A.B., C.S. and T.M.M. wrote the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Emma E. Garnett.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary methods, discussion, Figs. 1–4 and Tables 1–11.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Garnett, E.E., Marteau, T.M., Sandbrook, C. et al. Order of meals at the counter and distance between options affect student cafeteria vegetarian sales. Nat Food 1, 485–488 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-020-0132-8

Download citation

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing