Online shoppers can be nudged towards buying non-alcoholic drinks if choice is greater, University of Cambridge study suggests
Online shoppers buy fewer alcoholic drinks when presented with an increased selection of non-alcoholic options, research suggests.
A team from the University of Cambridge presented study participants with varying proportions of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and asked them to select drinks to purchase for their next online shop.
They recruited 737 adults living in England and Wales, all of whom regularly purchased alcohol online.
Of these, 607 completed the study and were included in the final analysis – 60 per cent were female and the average (mean) age was 38.
Participants selected drinks from 64 options in a simulated online supermarket. Options included a range of beers, ciders, alcohol-free beer and cider alternatives and soft drinks.
They were randomly assigned to one of three groups. Some 25 per cent of the drinks seen by group one were non-alcoholic. For group two, this increased to 50 per ent, and for group three the proportion of non-alcoholic drinks seen rose to 75 per cent.
The researchers found that among participants exposed to the highest proportion of non-alcoholic drinks, 52 per cent of the drinks purchased were alcoholic, compared to 70 per cent of drinks that were purchased by those exposed to the lowest proportion of non-alcoholic drinks.
Those exposed to the highest proportion of non-alcoholic drinks (group 3) selected fewer alcohol units, 17.5 units, compared to 29.4 units in those exposed to the lowest proportion of non-alcoholic drinks (group 1) – equivalent to a reduction of about 41 per cent.
Lead author Dr Natasha Clarke said: “We created our simulated supermarket to be as close as possible to an actual online supermarket and found that increasing the proportion of non-alcoholic drinks that shoppers were exposed to made a meaningful difference to their alcohol selection.”
Senior author Dr Gareth Hollands said: “Supermarkets typically stock a wider range of alcoholic drinks than non-alcoholic alternatives aimed at adults, but this is slowly changing. Our results suggest that if non-alcoholic options were to become the majority instead, we might expect to see substantial reductions in alcohol purchasing.”
The overall number of drinks that participants selected and purchased remained similar between groups, suggesting that effects were the result of shifting people’s choices and that overall drink sales and potentially revenues may be relatively unchanged, although this depends on the pricing of non-alcoholic drinks.
Professor Dame Theresa Marteau, director of the Behaviour and Health Research Unit and a bye-fellow at Christ’s College, said: “We all know that drinking too much alcohol is bad for us, but we’re often unaware of how much we are influenced by the environment around us. Making changes to this environment – from exposing people to a greater proportion of healthier options through to changing the sizes of the utensils we eat and drink from – can help us cut down on potentially unhealthy habits. Even relatively small changes can make a difference both to individuals and at a population level.”
Some of the non-alcoholic drink options in the study contained no sugar and were generally lower in calories than the alcoholic options – an average of 64 calories per non-alcoholic drink versus 233 calories per alcoholic drink. However, many soft drinks and alcohol-free alternatives still contain large amounts of sugar and calories, so the researchers argued that, given the health risks associated with sugary drink consumption, continued regulation and policies to reduce sugar content and consumption from both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks is needed.