Take it with a few less grains of salt

Dan Lockton comments on proposals to reduce the number of holes in salt shakers.

Research has suggested that slashing the holes from the traditional 17 to five could cut the amount people sprinkle on their food by more than half.

And so at least six councils have ordered five-hole shakers – at taxpayers’ expense – and begun giving them away to chip shops and takeaways in their areas. Leading the way has been Gateshead Council, which spent 15 days researching the subject of salty takeaways before declaring the new five-hole cellars the solution.

Lockton likes the idea but cautions policymakers about selling it to voters (and reporters).

It’s clever, simple, and non-intrusive, but I can see how the interpretation, the framing, is crucial. Clearly, when presented in the way what the councils have done here (as a government programme to eliminate customer choice, and force us all down the road decided by health bureaucrats), the initiative’s likely to elicit an angry reaction from a public sick of a “nanny state” interfering in every area of our lives. Politicians jumping on the Nudge bandwagon need to be very, very careful that this isn’t the way their initiatives are perceived and portrayed by the press (and many of them will be, of course): it needs to be very, very clear how each such measure actually benefits the public, and that message needs to be given extremely persuasively.

Addendum: A member of the Gateshead Council clarifies the reason for the new salt shakers. He says shopowners haven’t complained about the new shakers.

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