Making fruit easier to eat increases sales and consumption in school cafeterias
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Previous studies and surveys have shown that kids love to eat fruit in ready-to-eat bite-sized pieces, yet in most school settings, the fruit is served whole, which could be the cause that children are taking fruits but not eating them. Most people believe that children avoid fruit because of the taste and allure of alternative packaged snacks. A study by Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs (home of the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement) researchers Brian Wansink, David Just, Andrew Hanks, and Laura Smith decided to get to the bottom of why children were avoiding their fruit. Could, perhaps, increasing the convenience of fruit increase consumption?
To address this question, researchers conducted a pilot study in eight elementary schools within the same district. Each school was given a commercial fruit slicer and instructed to use it when students requested apples. The fruit slicer cut the fruit into six pieces and the process took three to four seconds. Results from interviews conducted with students during this pilot indicated they dislike eating fruit for two main reasons: for younger students, who might have braces or missing teeth, a large fruit is too inconvenient to eat; for older girls, it is un-attractive-looking to eat such a fruit in front of others. Initial results showed fruit sales increased by an average of 61%, when the fruit was sliced.
To confirm this finding, six middle schools in this same district were added to the study. Three of the schools were given fruit slicers, while the other three continued normal cafeteria operations to act as a control. Fruit slices were placed in cups in two of the three schools and on a tray in the third school. To assess actual consumption, trained field researchers were assigned to every school to record how much of the apple was wasted by counting the number of slices thrown away by each student.
Results showed that apple sales in schools with fruit slicers increased by 71% compared to control schools. More importantly, researchers found that the percentage of students who ate more than half of their apple increased by 73%, an effect that lasted long after the study was over.
This study shows that making fruit easier to eat encourages more children to select it and to eat more of it. With an initial investment of just $200, fruit slicers constitute a means for school cafeterias not only to encourage fruit consumption among students but also to prevent food waste!
The authors thank Cornell Cooperative Extension of Wayne County and the 16 elementary and middle schools in Wayne County NY who participated in the research for help with study implementation and data collection.
For more information about the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement, visit: smarterlunchrooms.org
• Download paper from the SSRN (the Social Science Research Network)
Wansink, Brian, David Just, Andrew S. Hanks and Laura E. Smith (2013). Pre-Sliced Fruit in School Cafeterias Children’s Selection and Intake. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 44, Issue 5, 477-480. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2013.02.003
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