A smarter way to change people’s eating habits


Why new tools only work if they fit with the way people actually live.

The challenge: encourage families to change

The most effective way to change behaviour isn't by telling people what to do. But if you give people the tools to change, they often choose to do so – as long as the tools work with the grain of their behaviour.

Public Health England (PHE) wanted to reduce family sugar consumption and created an app that could be used to scan barcodes on thousands of groceries, showing people how much sugar was in each one. The plan was to market the app as a tool to use while shopping.

PHE asked us to test and validate the concept.

Key outcomes

More than 2.1m downloads of Sugar Smart (Jan - Oct 2016)

The journey: how do people make food choices?

We began a programme of observational research in supermarkets and homes, combined with interviews with parents of young children who had been given the Sugar Smart app. Right away a key problem emerged.

Women typically carried a handbag and a shopping basket or pushed a shopping trolley with two hands – often while interacting with a small child. Men frequently carried no bag or shopping basket but instead clutched an armful of groceries. Neither were in a position to wield a mobile and scan a barcode. Generally, people try and shop as quickly as possible, further reducing the opportunity to use an app.

Co-design workshop with PHE
Observing shopping behaviours

The insight: home is where there’s time to think

As soon as we talked to people who'd been asked to use the app, one thing became very clear: they used it at home, in their own kitchens. And a second interesting insight emerged: children themselves enjoyed using the app.

There was no doubt about it – the app's predominant use wasn't going to be while shopping.

PHE Sugar Smart App

The solution: a tool to use at home

"Oh my God!" This was a reaction we saw time and again when a familiar food item was scanned. Parents were shocked at the sugar content – even children were shocked. One parent reported: "My son didn't finish his Pepsi after he scanned it, he said he didn't want it any more."

This told us the app had genuine potential to change behaviour. It just wasn't going to be used as a shopping tool. Instead, it had to be positioned as a way for people to understand their existing choices, empowering them to make new and better choices.

We had discovered where the app could align best with people's existing behaviour and what marketing proposition would be most likely to succeed. We were also able to suggest some quick fixes to the app's usability, such as an audio bleep to mimic a supermarket scanner.

The result? In the first week after launch, the app went straight to the number one spot on both the App Store and Google Play.

Infographic from the Sugar Smart Parents' Pack
Focusing on the new sugar guidelines, the Sugar Smart parents' pack provides families with the knowledge and tools they need to help them cut down on sugar. The pack contains a leaflet and stickers for pupils to take home in their book bags.
PHE Sugar Smart parent pack
Daniel Harris

Find out more

If you'd like to chat about how we can help you, email daniel.harris@cxpartners.co.uk

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