Google uses data experts to fix its in-office eating habits

Last year's M&M problem has caused Google to take action on in-office snacks.

Sept. 5—Last year Google had an M&M problem. So as it does with most dilemmas, the Internet giant put its data wizards into action.

Employees were eating too much of the free candy and that, the company surmised, might hinder efforts to keep workers healthy and happy.

So in what could be called Project M&M, a special ops force of behavioral science Ph.D.s conducted surveys of snacking patterns, collected data on the proximity of M&M bins to any given employee, consulted academic papers on food psychology, and launched an experiment.

What if the company kept the chocolates hidden in opaque containers but prominently displayed dried figs, pistachios and other healthful snacks in glass jars? The results: In the New York office alone, employees consumed 3.1 million fewer calories from M&Ms over seven weeks. That’s a decrease of nine vending machine-size packages of M&Ms for each of the office’s 2,000 employees.