Two New Mexico State University professors are gaining national exposure for their research into how to help consumers eat more healthfully.
Collin Payne and Mihai Niculescu, both College of Business marketing professors and co-directors of NMSU’s Consumer Behavior Laboratory, recently joined the Arrowhead Technology Incubator at NMSU’s Arrowhead Center to explore opportunities to transfer their research to nutritionally vulnerable communities.
Payne said they have had initial conversations with a health center working with a grocery store in Massachusetts and are exploring community-based opportunities in New Mexico and Texas. Payne and Niculescu’s research was recently profiled on Fox News.
“We’d like to transfer the knowledge gained from our university research to benefit consumers and retailers,” Payne said. “We draw from the knowledge base of behavioral economics to help consumers switch from lower-margin less healthy products to higher-margin healthier products without increasing consumer budgets.”
Payne and Niculescu recently received a large five-year grant from the USDA to create in-store marketing tools to help participants in the Women, Infants and Children program, or WIC, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP, purchase healthier foods.
Much of the grant activities will occur in the NMSU College of Business Consumer Behavior Lab, or CoBe Lab. Niculescu said one example of the grant activities in the CoBe Lab includes creating sales circulars, based on behavioral economics principles, that will help WIC and SNAP participants know what and how much fruit and vegetables to purchase. The test circulars will be distributed in Lubbock, Texas.
“When people go into the grocery store, they’re making decisions that will affect their health and their family’s health, but have to contend with choosing from tens of thousands of products in a space as big as a football field with expertly crafted in-store marketing,” Payne said. “We provide them with easy-to-use decision aides regarding what and how much produce to purchase without increasing their budgets.”
Other in-store decision aides Payne and Niculescu have used include placing placards in shopping carts promoting fruits and vegetables as well as strategically placed arrows on the grocery store floor. Consumers in the study ended up significantly increasing their produce purchases without increasing their budgets or decreasing supermarket profits.
Payne and Niculescu originally received a grant from the Paso Del Norte Health Foundation in El Paso to test these and other ideas.