A Healthy Snack Makes for Healthier Grocery Shopping

Eating a small healthy snack like an apple before your next grocery store trip could help you shop healthier. 

A new study from Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab looked at the psychological effects of eating healthy before buying more food. It seemed this tactic tricked people into buying healthier food.


Researchers looked at the effect of food samples on healthier or less healthier options:

  • Analyzed 120 shoppers who had a small snack before grocery shopping
    • First group had an apple slice
    • Second group had a piece of cookie
    • Third group didn’t get a snack
  • Apple slice group: bought 28% more fruits and vegetables
  • Healthy samples increase healthy purchases of both food products that are similar to the sample

The study found those who had a small healthy snack before grocery shopping bought 25% more fruits and vegetables than those who didn’t eat anything. These findings advance our knowledge concerning the effects of small amounts of food (healthy snacks), demonstrating that samples can serve as primes and encourage purchase of a greater number of products that are also healthy.

Perhaps conclusions drawn from this study should be used by retailers, policy bodies, and consumers to nudge consumers toward healthier options.


Researchers gave 56 people either a cookie or apple snack and asked them to imagine going grocery shopping. Subjects were shown 20 pairs of food—a low-calorie and high-calorie version—and asked to pick one. The apple eaters chose the healthier foods.

What we can draw from this study is that those who ate a pre-shopping snack that was merely perceived as healthy—even if it wasn’t—was enough to make people choose healthier foods.

In another follow-up study, shoppers were given chocolate milk described as either healthy and wholesome, or rich and indulgent. Though the milk was the same, those who were primed to believe that the milk was healthy chose healthier foods during their virtual shopping trips.

The study's lead author said "Anything that puts you in a healthy mindset, whether it’s actually a health food or not, can change your mind to healthier choices."

More research is needed but this is a very interesting direction as people are always trying to understand how they can shop healthier. Researchers are predicting that there may be a psychological factor

The study also suggests further research is needed. Perhaps people don't even have to physically eat something, just being near them might help consumers make better food choices he suspects that you might

Tips to shop healthy

  • Shop the perimeter
  • Consider eating a healthy snack right in the grocery store if you’re hungry
  • Start every trip to the grocery store in the healthy section
  • Never go to the grocery store starving.

The studies were published in the journal, Psychology and Marketing.