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


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.

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

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Data for the results in this paper can be found at

Code availability

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


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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.

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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.

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Correspondence to Emma E. Garnett.

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Supplementary Information

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

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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).

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