Exploring young people’s response to healthier food on-the-go and the SMASH app concept

User Experience & Usability

The challenge

Impact on Urban Health (part of Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Charity) were approached to support and invest in, a new business developing a healthy food discount app for 13-24 year olds, called SMASH. The app offers discounts on healthier products in their favourite food outlets.

To aid the investment decision, Impact on Urban Health and SMASHco partnered with Nonon and System Concepts, to test some of the underlying assumptions behind the SMASH proposition. Central to the research was understanding the potential feasibility, acceptability and impact on food consumption an app like SMASH might achieve. Price sensitivity of this demographic, and the lack of healthier products that compete on price with the less healthy ones, was also explored. The research had to be conducted in a lean way, while working remotely with participants during lockdown.

The goal of our research was to ultimately understand:

  • Does the SMASH app have the potential to influence 13-24 year olds to make healthier fast food choices compared to the ones they make today?
  • And if so, does SMASH offer a feasible, viable and sustainable option to deliver this?

What we did

Testing a new concept with teens and young adults, particularly during COVID, meant we needed to adapt our methodology to get to the right insights. With the SMASH app being centred around in-store use, we planned for a two-staged approach. Our mix of retrospective questioning through an interactive online diary, and friendship pair sessions via Zoom, helped us explore current behaviours when eating out, preferences, and participants’ response to the app concept itself and how / if it would be used.

“The most important thing anybody can do when trying to start a business is to put it out there and get feedback on your idea (and hopefully in so doing, stumble upon some evidence that it might just work). The team at System Concepts and Nonon did a brilliant job – both in terms of helping us to ask the right questions and to gain virtual access to our potential future SMASHers just after Lockdown 1.0 kicked in! However most importantly they gave me (and our future investors) the confidence I needed to abandon the corporate life and go do this crazy thing – coupled with the advice and the frank caveats that we needed to hear to ensure we banked the learnings in order to give SMASH the best shot at success.”

Chris Holmes, Founder & CEO, SMASHco

Research approach: Fast food & you journal using the online tool Incling, which received 754 total uploads, and 18 hours of zoom paired sessions.

The results

The overarching finding from the research was that there was a real demand for SMASH. There were no other apps on the market which focused on healthier options, and offered a discount to make healthier food options more affordable. Participants often wanted healthier options, but in many cases this meant paying a higher price.

Although there was generally a good amount of knowledge amongst participants about healthy food and a balanced diet, there was little knowledge of what healthier options were available within outlets. Some didn’t believe there were any healthier options in particular places at all.

The variety of options within the SMASH app was key. Even if the motivation to use SMASH was initially monetary, having access to discounts on healthier options across outlets they already went to, meant that it was more likely to drive teens towards exploring the healthier options.

“System Concepts were a fantastic partner and collaborator, quickly adding value. They were easy to work with, super-responsive and flexible, adapting quickly to the challenges of delivering during the pandemic. They brought expertise to how we approached the research and presented the findings which led to SMASH receiving significant investment.”

Sean Miller, Founder, Nonon

In a nutshell, we found out: 75% would choose a healthier option from the menu; 75% engaged with the idea of receiving a 20% discount to choose a healthier option; 100% said that they would download the SMASH app.

Whilst a discount through SMASH would encourage healthier options in general, there was a common thread throughout that if participants wanted to eat a particular menu item at any given time, they would do so, irrespective of any discount. The taste of the food option and saving money were felt to be more important for most, than saving calories.

With that being said, it was interesting to see an increase in enthusiasm towards healthier options after seeing a demo of the app itself. This highlights the importance of providing a quick, easy and engaging experience for users, that motivates teens to explore healthier options.

There was a feeling for some that the app would provide subconscious motivation, knowing they always had the app with them – seeing SMASH as a “healthy eating companion”. References to day-to-day use of the app and it encouraging users to exercise through seeing the map feature, for example, were positive signs of how it might be used longer term.

As SMASH continues to evolve…

As the SMASH journey continues, we have worked with the team to explore exciting opportunities to work with a series of large and “challenger / grocery brands” to sell a healthier version of products within the healthy food and drinks space. The team also wanted to consider how other “online” brands, linking SMASH users directly to those sites, may fit within the SMASH app offering.

Using a survey approach, we were able to reach a large, representative sample of 265 target users across the UK. This allowed SMASH to quickly test hypotheses and validate ideas, giving direction for the ongoing development of features.

Qualitative insights to explain quantitative data

Our survey design carefully balanced closed and open-ended questions to ensure that they could be answered quickly, yet provoke thinking to capture detail in key areas. This allowed us to gather qualitative data including reasons for and barriers to engagement with the app, to highlight opportunities.

Show, don’t tell

To communicate insights, we presented an infographic to the team, concisely communicating the results from the survey, identifying distinctions between the two tested user journeys and target age groups.

Blurred image of the infographic delivered to the client, with block colours and graphics.

Q&A session to discuss opportunities

A concluding Q&A session allowed us to delve into each insight and discuss potential opportunities for SMASH to optimise the user experience. We left the team with all of the raw data from the survey, allowing them to explore it further and to cross-reference findings from any future research.

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