Blog | 1 March, 2018

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Supermarket influencers – encouraging shoppers to get the hang of healthy eating

Every time shoppers enter a supermarket, they’re regularly being nudged to purchase sugary treats and snacks through various means – having these products within easy reach, at the end of an aisle or at the checkout for example. But could consumers be manipulated for the better and be persuaded to stock up on more healthy items?

 

Esther Papies, a professor of social psychology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, found that handing out recipe flyers at a store entrance that included words like “healthy” and “low-calorie” caused people who were overweight or dieting to subconsciously buy fewer snacks. They took a whopping 75% fewer snack items to the checkouts than those who received the control flier, which did not have the health-related terms on it. Seeing those words – being primed by them – activated people’s existing goals and reminded them what they could do now to meet them, without the shoppers really taking notice, says Papies.

 

Anne Escaron, a public health researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, has co-authored a review of studies into supermarket interventions for promoting healthy shopping that stretch back over 40 years. She says that, in general, the more angles covered by the interventions, the more successful they have been overall in shifting consumers’ habits. For instance, while using signs on store shelves that promote healthy shopping might help, if this is combined with some subtle price manipulation and promotion, the intervention is more likely to be effective. “Any way that you can catch more than one impulse that someone may have in the grocery store, the more you’re going to be able to influence consumer choices,” she says.

 

Alongside promotion, there’s also the issue of placement. Fresh produce sections are already placed just inside the front doors of stores, to give an impression of healthiness that then permeates the rest of the grocery shopping trip.

 

How will the health-conscious grocery store of the future look? It might be surprisingly similar to today’s, with most of the changes that alter shoppers’ behaviour going barely noticed by the customer.