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Sounds healthy: How background music and noise influence food choices

Sounds healthy: How background music and noise influence food choices

Background music and noise - known as "retail atmospherics" - are ubiquitous in retail, and for food and beverage brands. These selections can play a major role in customer experience and branding - from spending levels to brand perceptions. With competition from online food providers, physical stores are trying to compete on a more experiential level. But music can pose a risk: In 2016, British multinational retailer Marks & Spencer decided in 2016 to turn off music in their stores following customer complaints.

Now researchers have studied whether ambient music and noise levels affect retail selection - specifically healthy or unhealthy food choices. Existing research shows that volume levels in retail and restaurants are typically very variable. And these spaces are getting louder too. Volume levels are easily changeable, with management often at the controls. 

This new research combined a pilot study, two field experiments, and five lab studies. It compared the effects of high, low, and zero levels of background music and noise. Across the experiments, low noise and music levels lead to higher sales of healthy food and increased relaxation. On the other hand, louder music and noise encouraged unhealthier food selections and increased heart-rates. These results were robust in supermarket shopping and cafes, and across a wide variety of musical genres. 

Research like this is important to audio branding, in terms of customer and staff wellbeing, health, and brand perceptions. We know already that loud noise changes taste perception, and therefore this may go some way to explaining this new research. Retailers can go a long way in experiential design to encourage healthier choices. 

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