food

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1) More overconfidence. Spotting drunk people.

2) More calories tomorrow. Calorie counts, that is.

3) More productive employees. Just say thank you to them. Hat tip: Simoleon Sense.

4) More mail. Gmail’s inbox gets smarter.

5) More bang for your buck. In Massachusetts, a 30 percent food stamp discount for buying fresh fruits and vegetables. But will the discount be visible enough?

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Chiquita tries out a new contest that let’s people design their own version of the familiar blue and yellow logo, according to the New York Times.

(The reporter) spoke to a couple of Chiquita representatives about the popularity of the sticker-remixing stunt, and in less than 10 minutes they used word “emotional” at least five times — as in “designed to re-engage that emotional connection with consumers” or “really resonate on an emotional level…The little sticker is the most minimal form of packaging imaginable, and yet it’s completely plausible that people will not only seek it out but also buy it. And as a bonus, it even comes with a banana.”

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Researchers at New Mexico State University say a simple change in the design of shopping carts may help people make better decisions about the food they buy.

Collin Payne, an assistant professor in NMSU’s College of Business, conducted the research at supermarkets in Las Cruces. Researchers marked a line with yellow duct tape across the width of shopping carts, and placed a sign on the cart asking shoppers to place fruit and vegetables in front of the tape line, and the rest of their groceries behind the line.

“And what we saw was a bump of a 102% increase in purchasing of fruits and vegetables with that simple sign and line,” Payne said.

Full story here. Hat tip: Rags Srinivasan, Jamey Coughlin.

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1) Can the phrase “I look forward to receiving your information so I can process your case as soon as possible,” increase successful food stamp applications?

2) The city of Boulder, Colorado, is challenging its residents to be healthy and act sustainably. Hat tip: Kare Anderson.

3) A behavioral economics explanation for sticky prices and celebrity endorsers: We take our cues about price from others. Hat tip: Mostly Economics.

4) Do the new larger bars on your iPhone 4 make you feel better about your reception? Hat tip Pete Novosel.

5) National Geographic on smiling energy bills and friendly competition.

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You may have heard about Panera Bread’s special non-profit store that it opened last month in St. Louis. Instead of charging for food, the store lets people pay what they wish, similar to the bagel or coffee donation box you might see in an company’s office. It’s too early to know how successful this venture will be, and what kind of information about it Panera will make available, but here’s a prediction: It won’t be all that successful. People will offer to pay a fraction of what the food retails for. Say, less than 50 percent, probably closer one-third the retail price.

Why? These sorts of pay-what-you-wish arrangements work best when the product is specifically not associated with a standard market, and therefore where social norms are likely to apply more strongly. Panera is a for-profit business that operates in a market environment. Opening a single non-profit store won’t change that, and the consumers who visit know it.

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The state of New York, with help from Cornell’s Brian Wansink, puts nudge principles to work in its cafeterias

In New York, the Department of Health decided to do some research. How much, it wondered, would a school need to cut its prices for apples, oranges and bananas to increase sales by 5 percent over a year? Brian Wansink…soon discovered he had been hired to answer the wrong question. Price wasn’t the problem. It was the presentation.

In the school cafeterias Wansink surveyed, whole fruits were displayed in steel bins in dimly lighted areas of the lunch line. Wansink went to discount store T.J. Maxx and bought a cheap wire fruit rack. He found an extra desk lamp, which he used to shine on the fruit. “Sales of fruit in one school went up 54 percent. Not in a semester: by the end of the second week,” Wansink said. “It would have gone up faster, but they kept running out of fruit.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is planning to award $2 million in research grants for federal food policy inspired by behavioral economics. Full story in the Washington Post.

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When Condé Nast closed Gourmet magazine last year, it automatically switched all of its nearly 900,000 regular subscribers over to a subscription for its sister publication Bon Appétit. The NYT reports that Condé Nast is being conservative with its upcoming subscription estimates at 1.5 million – just 200,000 over last year’s numbers. Gourmet and Bon Appétit subscription lists overlapped quite a bit (although Condé Nast won’t say exactly how much), but the actual March subscription figure was 1.67 million, which means a bump of approximately 400,000 readers.

“Ninety-nine point nine nine percent of a subscriber file, as you can imagine, will not opt to get their money back, but some will,” said Carol Smith, who joined Condé Nast last month from Elle as vice president and publishing director for Bon Appétit.

So the overlap is probably about 400,000-500,000 subscribers.

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Reader Jeff Zemla has noticed a trend at some frozen yogurt chains like Swirl and Menchies. The stores combine self-service vending with a one-size fits all cup. The size of that cup? Huge, of course, so that you can fit a small, medium, or large serving inside it.

There are a series of studies showing that larger plates lead to larger portions consumed. Is this principle being put into service in order to sell more yogurt? “Have you ever tried getting just a dollop of yogurt in a giganto cup?” asks Zemla. “It’s near impossible– it always looks so tiny!” That may be the whole point…

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Santa Clara twists the typical ban on fast food by banning toys in fatty, salty kids’ meals. If the meals meet certain nutritional guidelines, they can be sold with toys. None of McDonald’s meals meet the criteria. Here’s guessing the city council knew that when it passed the rule.

Given the Nudge blog’s preference for policies that fit a libertarian paternalism philosophy, this kind of ban seems to run afoul. KJ Dell’Antonia thinks a better idea would be to put a better toy in the healthier meals.

You can have the cheeseburger and fries or you can have the grilled chicken and apples—but only the grilled chicken and apples comes with a toy. (My kids would go for the fries.) When I think of it that way, I’m less bothered by it, but only slightly. It still strikes me as more of a bribe than an incentive, and I don’t see that as a good way to talk about food. More importantly, I resent the legislating of this. If McDonald’s offered it voluntarily (how about a better toy with a healthier meal?) I’d applaud them, but I remain thumbs-down on making it the law.

It looks like Santa Clara is just legislating a lesson from basic economics about tradeoffs. Are the kids you know trading the toy for the fries?

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Nudge reader Céline Christensen says she recently noticed a restaurant in Amsterdam that offered diners the option to skip dessert and donate € 1 to a good cause. “On the total amount of dinner € 1 is fair, and you eliminate some calories by skipping dessert!” she writes.

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