BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Researchers at the University at Buffalo are looking for ways to improve the WIC shopping experience to keep customers in the program.
Mother of two, Annamarie Depalma, has been using the WIC program since she was pregnant with her firstborn four years ago.
"The program helps us pick out healthy things like fruits and vegetables," Depalma said. “During the pandemic, it was hard. You cannot do it through an app like Instacart, so you have to go out to the store.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (better known as WIC) "aims to safeguard the health of low-income women, infants, and children up to age 5 who are at nutrition risk by providing nutritious foods to supplement diets, information on healthy eating, and referrals to health care."
UB Associate professor, Lucia Leone, PhD, is the study's lead author. She said in addition to regular issues shoppers face, moms who shop using WIC benefits often have difficulty finding eligible products and deal with a lengthy checkout process.
"Think about bringing multiple kids to the grocery store trying to find the right item. You get to the cash register, and oh wait! It's the 10 ounce, and I need the 14 ounce, and you want to start pulling your hair out" Leone sid.
The research team released a study in April 2021 that examined retail-based strategies to increase WIC retention and redemption rates. They identified key barriers to shopping with WIC and strategies that could improve the experience.
As a result of a partnership between the research team and Tops Friendly Markets on Niagara Street in Buffalo a pilot program is in place to test out the “bundling” of WIC items.
"It's based in behavorial economics the idea that we can make default choices, and then people will gravitate towards them," Leone said. "Look at all the things in the grocery store. There are a lot of choices! If we can cut out some of the mental work that you have to do find products, it'll be easier for people to find what they need."