Information provision and health

From today’s inbox, a new paper — “Calorie Posting in Chain Restaurants” by Bryan Bollinger, Phillip Leslie, Alan Sorensen. Here is the link (sadly gated).

We study the impact of mandatory calorie posting on consumers purchase decisions, using detailed data from Starbucks.  We find that average calories per transaction falls by 6%.  The effect is almost entirely related to changes in consumers food choices–there is almost no change in purchases of beverage calories.  There is no impact on Starbucks profit on average, and for the subset of stores located close to their competitor Dunkin Donuts, the effect of calorie posting is actually to increase Starbucks revenue.  Survey evidence and analysis of commuters suggest the mechanism for the effect is a combination of learning and salience.

Australia has not risen to the food labeling challenge. Perhaps our health ministers should reconsider. After all, if they want supermarkets to disclose unit price, why shouldn’t other retailers disclosure even harder to discern quantitative information.

2 thoughts on “Information provision and health”

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    Reducing calories purchased at Starbucks (or other vendors) is a benefit only if total calorie consumption decreases. Is there any reason to believe that an individual’s total caloric intake (daily, weekly, yearly) declines due to calorie posting ? Studies of calorie consumption show that calorie consumption is fairly constant over a day/week and that calories foregone at one meal are usually added to a later meal or snack.
    The study found, “Three quarters (10 calories) of the reduction in calories per transaction is due
    to consumers buying fewer items, and one quarter (4 calories) of the effect is due to consumers
    substituting towards lower calorie items.”
    Buying fewer items is consistent with less fullness and a greater likelihood of replacing the lost calories later in the day. Also, the amount of calorie reduction is 14 calories according to the paper. It would be interesting if the authors had the incremental cost that Starbucks incurred to see how much it cost to reduce individuals consumption by 1 percent or less of their daily intake.

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  2. Milton @ 1
    Another possible is that customers chose a lower calorie food option, that would reduce overall calorie intake in your example. This would seem true if Starbucks taking market share from Dunkin’ Donuts customers when they had calorie posting, as seems to be the case.

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