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Can Diet and Nutrition Apps Help Consumers Eat Healthier?

| January 19, 2016
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2016 is here! And with every new year come resolutions for healthier lifestyles and better eating habits. We’re all still recuperating from indulgent holiday celebrations—rich with love and cholesterol—making it more important than ever to make health-conscious decisions. Maybe it’s running your first half marathon, getting that gym membership you’ve been considering, or finally developing a taste for kale and beets over potato chips and sweets. Whatever your goal, you don’t have to go at it alone!

While wearables have become all the rage over the past year, exercise is still only half the story when it comes to health and weight loss. Dieting and nutrition are just as (if not more) important, and there are plenty of mobile apps on the market to help consumers eat healthier. Here at UserTesting, we decided to test one of these dieting and nutrition apps to determine its usefulness in guiding consumers’ grocery shopping decisions.

­The study

The app

Fooducate is a well-regarded health and diet app that allows users to evaluate grocery products on an A-D grading scale of the nutritional value of the product. Users can scan barcodes, browse food categories, or search products manually, while also seeing healthier alternatives for products and reviews from the Fooducate community. It’s free for both iOS and Android and includes a paid Pro version that offers a variety of diets to choose from (Paleo, gluten-free) and other enhanced features.

The methodology

We recruited four UserTesting panelists with no prior experience using Fooducate for the adventure of a lifetime: grocery shopping with their smartphones! Participants began at home where they freely explored the app and gave feedback about its look and functionality. Then they ventured out to their grocery store of choice to pick up a few food items with help from their freshly downloaded app. Once finished at the store, participants returned home and answered a few follow-up questions about their experience.

The results

Initial impressions

With an unambiguous focus on dieting and healthy living, Fooducate’s intuitive and simple functionality easily won participants over describing it as user-friendly and understandable.

The Food Finder was the favored feature because of its food search capabilities, allowing users to see nutritional details about a product either through a bar scanner, manual search, or browsing by category. One participant found the Food Finder potentially useful for looking up information on fresh produce or other products without listed nutrition facts to determine the calorie amount and proper serving size.

Another participant indicated she appreciated being able to see the nutritional information about grocery products, especially the Fooducate grade, before heading to the store.

The Health Tracker was also intriguing to some for its potential as a dieting aid, allowing them to log meals and monitor their caloric intake. Others found the social aspect of the app appealing as a supportive motivator for healthy eating, specifically, sharing their dieting progress with the Fooducate community and seeing recommended healthy recipes.

While most impressions were positive, one participant felt that the process of entering meals in the Health Tracker to monitor calories was inconvenient at times, especially after eating at work.

Furthermore, the app did not seem to apply much to the participant’s lifestyle given his current standard of healthy dieting habits, though, he would consider using it for learning about foods outside of his dieting regimen.

Looking up products at the store (participants’ choice)

Participants’ first task after they arrived at the grocery store was to use Fooducate to help guide their purchasing decision for a product of their choosing. Their experiences left them divided regarding the usefulness of Fooducate.

While some shoppers were able to effectively learn nutritional information about their product, others were left with less fruitful interactions due to the limited selection of products within the store and absence of information for their product.

Additionally, only one participant accessed nutritional information beyond the initial product page, which only contained the Fooducate grade, calorie amount, and user comments. So far, it seems Fooducate’s usefulness is dependent on the product of interest and the availability of nutritional information about it. Even with the presence of nutritional information, most of it went unnoticed in the grocery store setting.

Looking up chips at the store

Next, we sent participants to the chip aisle and asked them to once again use Fooducate to help guide their purchasing decision for America’s favorite crunchy snack.

Generally, the app performed more smoothly when comparing chips than a product of choice. The overall popularity of chips and variety of brands afforded participants with a wider selection of products to choose and compare nutritional information with. Furthermore, participants explored more sections of the app on this round and accessed more nutritional information beyond the initial product page.

Most participants used the Food Finder for comparing products, with one participant comparing multiple brands before deciding she would not purchase any of them because of their poor Fooducate grade. 

Another participant was surprised to learn that Lays potato chips were a naturally good source of Vitamin C. However, the remaining information about his chip choice was unsurprising given his prior understanding about the lackluster nutrition of potato chips.

Conclusion

If you’re interested in nutritional information about popular products, Fooducate can be a positive influence to get you to put down the junk and pick up a healthier alternative. Yet, as we’ve seen, it still has its limitations. Whether it’s missing product information, uncontrollable store factors, or glitches within the app itself, there are limits to the effectiveness of shopping with Fooducate.

Luckily, it seems the app becomes more intuitive over extended usage, with users increasingly accessing the trove of nutritional information as they continue to “Fooducate” themselves.  Most of our participants found it helpful in their shopping routine:

Participant 1: “I think it is very useful and I will probably use it every time I come grocery shopping now until I get a good sense of what’s healthy and what’s not.”

Participant 2: “It’s really more for me as an exploratory kind of app, but if I were to actually start counting calories, I would say this would be a very, very nice app.”

Participant 3: “I think it’s a good idea. I like that they integrated the barcode feature into it. Most barcode feature apps that I’ve seen mostly focus on price not health, user reviews, and suggestions, so that’s cool.”