- Researchers have found that a grocery store’s layout can influence what people buy.
- Placing sweets in prominent locations encourages purchases of those products.
- However, placing fruits and vegetables up front can drive healthier purchases.
- There are strategies you can follow to ensure that you are making healthy purchases despite your store’s layout.
According to University of Southampton researchers, helping people to eat better may be as simple as rearranging the layout of their local supermarket.
They say that placing sugary treats like candy and chocolate bars in checkouts and at the end of nearby aisles drives people to purchase more of these unhealthy products.
However, having foods like fruits and vegetables near the front of the store can guide people to make healthier choices.
This research is important, according to the study author, because poor food choices can lead to obesity and cardiovascular disease.
Anything that encourages better eating can help.
The lead authors, Dr. Christina Vogel and Dr. Janis Baird, performed their study in conjunction with the UK supermarket chain Iceland Foods Ltd.
A selection of Iceland stores in England were monitored for sales, purchasing, and dietary patterns by taking a sample of their regular customers.
When rearranging store layouts, Vogel said they looked at previous marketing research showing how product placement can influence purchasing decisions.
Products placed near the store entrance, aisle-ends, and checkouts are prominent and easily seen by customers, she said, so putting items in these locations has been found to lead to more sales.
Vogel’s team then took these findings and applied them toward the goal of driving more healthy food purchasing.
They removed sweets from the checkouts and the end of the opposite aisles and replaced them with water and nonfood items. They also enlarged the fruit and vegetable section and moved it near the store entrance.
What they found when they made these changes was the store-wide sales of sweets decreased, while fruit and vegetables sales increased.
Specifically, these changes led to about 1,500 fewer portions of sweets being purchased in each store on a weekly basis.
Also, nearly 10,000 more portions of fruits and vegetables were purchased from each store weekly.
In addition, the researchers found that people’s individual dietary quality improved.
Matthew Black, a registered dietician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, said there are quite a few things you can do to ensure that you are buying healthy foods, even if your store grocery is not encouraging it through their layout.
Use smartphone apps
Fooducate, KITCHENPAL, or OptUP (within the Kroger app) are some examples of apps that Black said can help you make better food choices. These apps provide a score for products based on such criteria as health and fitness goals or specified dietary preferences, like vegetarian or gluten-free.
Make a shopping list
Black said that ideally this should be created based on a meal plan. Adequate planning will prevent you from impulse purchases and wasting food. This can be done weekly to keep it from feeling so overwhelming.
Use a meal planning service
If you need additional help with meal planning, Black suggests services like PlateJoy, eMeals, and Eat Love. These services provide customized meal planning appropriate for an individual or an entire household and include recipes, serving sizes, grocery lists, and integration with grocery delivery services.
Don’t shop hungry
Black said that shopping hungry can lead to buying foods that you didn’t plan to, just because they look appealing in the moment. Have a snack before you head to the grocery store to prevent this.
Consider using online ordering with curbside pickup
Black said this will allow you to complete your shopping without having to be exposed to unhealthy items, especially in those quick grab-and-go spots like checkout lanes and end caps that marketers are so fond of.