26 January 2015

Salt & Pepper Choice Architecture

Last year (2014) I had the largest number of flights in my life. Alongside the convenience of fast traveling, flights come with several inconveniences, one of them being in-flight food.

In-flight food can range from (almost) terrible – KLM – to quite good – Tarom – to surprisingly good (for flight food) – Turkish Airlines.

One of the reasons for in-flight food being not exactly a treat is the airlines’ need to cut costs. And this post is a free advice on how airlines can cut costs when it comes to food without damaging the clients’ experience.

Usually, the in-flight food comes with Salt and Pepper in small envelop-like packaging as in the picture below.

While, in our minds, salt and pepper go together very well and are seen more or less as equals, there are some serious differences between them when it comes to prices and use.

You might not realize, but (black, grinded) pepper is more than 79 times more expensive than (white, regular) salt.

According to prices in Albert Heijn (the largest supermarkets chain in The Netherlands), a kilogram of black grinded pepper of the cheapest kind is € 23.80, while a kilogram of regular table salt of the cheapest kind is  € 0.30.

When it comes to using salt and pepper, I believe there is a considerable difference. There are a lot more people adding salt to their food than are people who add pepper. It might be just my biased view, but I believe a lot (the huge majority) of the pepper packs are never opened and end up in the trash.

At first glance, this might not look like an issue, but every 200 packs of 5g of pepper thrown in the garbage, are equivalent to throwing 23 euros in the trash. Scale this to millions of passengers each year and things will look very different.  
Just as a note, it would be nice to have some garbology data on this – looking in airplane trash bags and see exactly how much of the pepper ends up unopened in the garbage.

In this light, airlines could simply eliminate pepper from their meals, thus avoiding unwanted waste. But this would damage the experience for the passengers who want pepper in their food.

The solution comes from Choice Architecture.

Instead of providing pepper by default, airlines could make pepper a (free) additional option.  

Here’s a rough prototype on how I see things being solved.

The envelope-like pack of pepper can be replaced by a small piece of paper with the message:

Please ask a flight attendant for pepper.

This change would bring some considerable cost cuts to airlines.

Of course, it would bring some headaches to pepper producers… more on the side-effects of applied behavioural science in a future post.

If you’re curious on how choice architecture can help improve your business, take a look at Designing Decisions.

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