Scientists have developed a system that triggers a 25-second time delay when a consumer selects a highly caloric snack item from a vending machine, according to Bakery and Snacks. The DISC (Delays to Improve Snack Choices) system also displays a "delivery countdown" that gives consumers time to pick a more nutritious product instead.
Researchers have found that delaying access to junk food makes the products less desirable, yielding a 2% to 5% increase in healthy snack purchases without impacting vending revenue.
"They [vending machines] are not going away any time soon, so this new vending machine system could be an effective and financially viable strategy that can shift individual's choices towards healthier options," Dr. Brad Appelhans, clinical psychologist at the Rush University Prevention Center, said in Bakery and Snacks.
According to Appelhans, DISC technology takes advantage of human desire for instant gratification. Even if consumers have been craving an unhealthy bag of chips, a 25-second delay may be nuisance — or shame — enough for them to choose a healthier option.
The 25-second count-down is viewable on a touch screen that also explains how the system works. The screen enables consumers to switch to a healthier choice before time is up.
It's unlikely that vending machine operators would be willing to implement this technology if it harmed sales, but the 2% to 5% shift to healthier snacks could encourage fast adoption.
Widespread implementation of the DISC system could help consumers move toward more nutritious eating habits while still meeting their demands for convenience. It's interesting that added time has proven to be such a turn-off for consumers in system tests.
It will also be interesting to see if there is any backlash from consumers if this technology becomes commonplace. It's possible that some people may view the 25-second delay as food shaming, or infringing on customer choice.