Can supermarkets persuade customers to choose healthier foods?

Can Supermarkets Coax People Into Buying Healthier Food?

Limiting the availability of less nutritious items in supermarkets and increasing the availability of healthier options could be effective strategies to encourage healthier shopping habits.

New research by Carmen Piernas and her team at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom found that people who eat a lot of fish are more likely to get heart disease and stroke.

In the United Kingdom, dietary targets for saturated fat, dietary fiber, sugar, and salt are currently not being fulfilled. Poor diets are a major risk factor for chronic diseases, and there are still substantial social disparities in diet.

Evidence from systematic reviews suggests that grocery store initiatives can help people change their diets, although there isn’t much evidence from actual supermarkets.

The researchers investigated six treatments addressing the availability, location, advertising, and signage of healthier items in three major UK grocery store chains in the first new study. They discovered that expanding the availability of healthier options within a category was linked to significant shifts in purchase behavior.

For example, putting low-fat chips alongside regular chips reduced regular chip sales by 23% in intervention stores vs. 4% in control stores (p = 0.001). Putting more low-calorie biscuits on the shelves led to 18% more sales and a 4% drop in sales of traditional, high-calorie biscuits.

Piernas and colleagues assessed a grocery shop intervention in which seasonal chocolates and candies were removed from prominent positions within a large UK supermarket in the seven weeks running up to Easter.

Free-standing promotional displays of seasonal chocolate confectionery products were removed from 34 intervention locations, but the candy was still sold elsewhere in the store. This is what they found: During the pre-Easter period, units of confectionery sales rose by 18% in control stores, but only 5% in intervention stores (p).

The articles together provide new evidence on how the law might assist in modifying consumers’ diets in order to improve their health.

The study has “substantial implications for merchants and governments developing policies to bring dietary intakes closer to recommendations for good health,” the authors write. It’s unlikely that strategies aimed at enlightening customers about healthier options will work in isolation.

Piernas continues, “With regard to the first study, the English government has announced new rules to limit the promotion of high-sugar, high-salt, and high-saturated-fat foods (HFSS) in prominent locations.

Over the course of seven weeks leading up to Easter, this study formed a collaboration with a large UK food retailer to evaluate an intervention to remove seasonal chocolate candy from prominent locations in the store, notably end-of-aisles and entrance areas.

These findings from a “real-world” intervention suggest that proposed laws in England restricting the promotion of less healthy foods in prominent settings could help prevent overconsumption.

Piernas continues, “With regard to the second study,” “We conducted an independent evaluation of six in-store interventions aimed at influencing food purchasing behaviors within three large UK food retailers as part of this multi-retailer alliance.

We found that various store-level choice architecture interventions, such as availability and promotions, were linked to short-term changes in food purchasing habits. Promotional effects on consumer behavior, on the other hand, may fade over time and are less likely to be sustainable for merchants over extended periods of time.