Impulse Snack Buying

September 22, 2016

As lifestyles become faster paced, snacks become increasingly important. Today’s more health-conscious consumer often looks to snacks to meet certain nutritional needs, as the previous standard of “three squares a day” becomes more elusive. As snacking becomes more important to many, it is important to understand the psychology of the impulse purchase in order to adjust marketing to optimize results.

Profile of the Impulse Buyer
According to a report in Psychology Today, impulse buyers are more social, more concerned with image and more focused on status. They often make purchases that will look good to others. As healthier lifestyles become more highly thought of, the more impulsive buyer is likely to consider healthier snacks marketed accordingly.

Roots of Impulse Buying
As a result, businesses should take a more sophisticated look at the science of impulse buying to better promote healthy snacks. It is important to understand that impulse purchases of food are related to both physiological and psychological needs. Not surprisingly, there’s a scientific basis for the impulse to address hunger. Researchers have identified a class of neurons that drive animals to eat when they are hungry. According to NBC News, Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers identified so-called AGRP neurons which transmit an irritating signal until they were shut off. It turns out the mice in the study had three ways to shut off the irritating signal: by eating, by seeing food or by going to a spot where they located food in the past. Researchers postulate that such neurons are part of an ancient motivation system to make an animal meet its food requirements.

Impulse Buying at Checkout
According to a report by Fox Business, approximately $5.5 billion in annual sales occurs in checkout aisles alone. In recent years, large retailers have been assailed by The Center for Science in the Public Interest and other groups for excessively promoting impulse buys of candy and junk food in the checkout displays. Although impulse purchases of snacks at checkout remain popular, many stores have purged their checkout aisles of candy and junk food. Companies concerned with image are now changing what is allowed in the checkout lanes. For example, CVS has switched to healthier snacks in checkout displays as part of its Healthy Foods Initiative. After introducing the concept in 500 stores in 2015, this summer the company announced it would expand the initiative to all 2,900 of its stores.

Ultimately, companies that successfully appeal to more health-conscious consumers in the checkout lane will be better positioned to generate increased sales. Those most prone to impulse purchases are often more concerned with status and image, so it is useful to appeal to these psychological qualities.

Tags: candy, healthy snacks

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