Consumers to undergo brain scanning to test food promotions

By Laurence Gibbons

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Special offers Supermarket

Consumers will be asked to simulate a weekly shop to determine which part of the brain is involved in making choices
Consumers will be asked to simulate a weekly shop to determine which part of the brain is involved in making choices
Food and drink shoppers are to undergo brain scanning, under lab conditions, to test their reactions to promotions and special offers as part of a new project by the University of Bangor and shopper research firm SBXL.

SBXL claimed the project could save supermarkets millions of pounds lost through offering the wrong kind of promotions to consumers.

SBXL’s md Phillip Adcock said: “Around a quarter of all products on supermarket shelves are on some kind of offer or promotion, so we are talking about many millions of pounds at stake in lost margins if the supermarkets get it wrong.

“We estimate that supermarkets and brands consistently give away 23% more margin than they need to.”

£3M medical scanner

As part of the project, consumers will be asked to simulate a £80 grocery shop in a supermarket, while going through a £3M 20t medical functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner.

A variety of supermarket products will be displayed on a screen in front of shoppers, who will then be asked to make normal shopping choices from a shopping list, while faced with a wide range of promotions and special offers.

This should identify which part of the brain is involved in making choices by measuring blood flow and brain activity. The aim of the project is to find out how shoppers respond to special offers, what their attention span is and how capable they are of ignoring brands surrounding those on offer.

The project is being sponsored by three multi-national grocery and healthcare companies, together responsible for more than 20 household brands, ranging from canned vegetables to beauty products.

Early research

Early research suggested that at around 23 minutes into their shop, customers began to make choices with the emotional part of their brain. This part of the brain can only guess at value for money, rather than the cognitive part of the brain which is capable of logical decision-making, the University of Bangor said.

The research also showed that after 40 minutes, the average time taken to complete a weekly shop, the brain gets tired and effectively shuts down – ceasing to form rational thoughts.

Previous research also found that 20% of shoppers were likely to put special offers in their basket even if they were more expensive than the normal product. Nearly half of shoppers were also said to ignore buy-one-get-one-free items and only chose one.

Senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Bangor, Dr Paul Mullins, added: “This ​[project] gives us the chance to bring our research on decision making into a real world context, and we hope will tell us a lot about how we respond to different types of competing information in the world around us. In particular we are interested in how factors we may be unconsciously aware off can override what might be considered the optimal choice based on conscious judgements.”

Meanwhile, last week grocery think-think IGD’s chief economist James Walton told that consumers would hold on to the defensive shopping habits​ they have adopted over the last few years even if the UK experienced an economic recovery.

Earlier this month, Tesco announced it planned to install face-scanning advertising screens in all its 450 petrol stations.

Camera will scan the faces of people queuing and alter the adverts being played out on the screen depending on the gender and age of shoppers.

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