Healthy shopping dynamics: The healthiness of sequential grocery choices

Koert van Ittersum*, Martine T. van der Heide, Niels Holtrop, Tammo H.A. Bijmolt, Jenny van Doorn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Improving the healthiness of diets can be realized by replacing unhealthy with healthier product alternatives when shopping for groceries. For this strategy to be effective, shoppers need to consistently make healthier choices. However, shoppers may end up balancing the healthiness of their choices throughout the shopping trip, (partly) offsetting the benefits of a healthy product choice (e.g., low-fat milk) by an unhealthy subsequent choice (e.g., sugary cornflakes). Across two studies, one study with purchase data from a brick-and-mortar supermarket and one online experimental study, we empirically demonstrate that the relative healthiness of an initial product choice is indeed inversely related to the relative healthiness of the subsequent choice, regardless of the category of both products. That means: a relatively healthy choice is followed by a relatively unhealthier choice, and vice versa. Furthermore, the strength of this balancing effect differs depending on the nature of the product category; the dynamic effect is less pronounced when subsequently choosing within a vice (vs. virtue) product category. In the brick-and-mortar supermarket, the dynamics also become less pronounced as the shopping trip progresses. These findings contribute to literature on in-store decision-making and within-trip dynamics, and underscore the need for retailers to have a thorough understanding of these healthy shopping dynamics in order to effectively promote healthier baskets in support of the growing demand for healthy diets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-40
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Retailing
Issue number1
Early online date8-Oct-2023
Publication statusPublished - Mar-2024


  • Healthy food consumption
  • In-store decision-making
  • Sequential choices
  • Vice and virtue categories

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