The effect of a default-based nudge on the choice of whole wheat bread

Ellen van Kleef*, Karen Seijdell, Monique H. Vingerhoeds, René A. de Wijk, Hans C.M. van Trijp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Consumer choices are often influenced by the default option presented. This study examines the effect of whole wheat bread as a default option in a sandwich choice situation. Whole wheat bread consists of 100% whole grain and is healthier than other bread types that are commonly consumed, such as brown or white bread. A pilot survey (N = 291) examined the strength of combinations of toppings and bread type as carrier to select stimuli for the main study. In the main experimental study consisting of a two (bread type) by two (topping type) between-subjects design, participants (N = 226) were given a free sandwich at a university stand with either a relatively unhealthy deep-fried snack (croquette) or a healthy topping. About half of the participants were offered a whole wheat bun unless they asked for white bun, and the other half were offered a white bun unless they asked for a whole wheat bun. Regardless of the topping, the results show that when the whole wheat bun was the default option, 108 out of 115 participants (94%) decided to stick with this default option. When the default of bread offered was white, 89 out of 111 participants (80%) similarly chose to stick with this default. Across conditions, participants felt equally free to make a choice. The attractiveness of and willingness to pay for the sandwich were not affected by default type of bread. This study demonstrated a strong default effect of bread type. This clearly shows the benefit of steering consumers towards a healthier bread choice, by offering healthier default bread at various locations such as restaurants, schools and work place canteens.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-185
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018


  • Behavioural economics
  • Default effect
  • Food choice behaviour
  • Intervention
  • Nudging
  • Whole wheat bread


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