Healthy Profits: Boosting food sales by tailoring the store shopper experience

Not all shoppers shop alike. Health food enthusiasts shop differently than mothers shopping with kids; a “hot” fast-thinker shops differently than a “cold” slow-thinker; and variety-seekers shop differently than budget-constrained shoppers, the study said. ©iStock

Small and low cost in-store changes have been shown to increase sales of healthy food, finds a new paper that aims boost sales of produce including fish, fruit and vegetables.

Disruptive layouts, smart carts, suggestive signage, GPS alerts, and touch-screen pre-ordering are all an indication of how healthy foods will be sold in grocery stores in the future, says the paper published in the Journal of Retailing.

The aim of these approaches is to communicate how convenient, attractive, or 'normal' (CAN) it is to purchase healthy target foods, the researchers added.

“Such changes influence how shoppers can be lead to purchase a healthier target,” said Dr Brian Wansink, lead study author and professor and director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab.

“The signage, structure, service mix within the store show the areas where this can be done using multiple reinforcing techniques.”

Critics in the past have believed the main motivations of retailers are to sell unhealthy processed food. However the opposite is true for the savvy ones.

The thinking is retailers could lose more money in inventory costs then they would otherwise gain by selling the processed versions.

The paper argues that grocers are motivated to sell healthy, profitable foods but they do not know how to effectively do so.

The matrix revolutions

Dr Wansink introduces the concept of a Retail Intervention Matrix (RIM), a way of organising research findings based on making healthier foods more convenient, attractive, or normal.

This could be implemented in store with the use of signage, structure and service mix.

The RIM goes on to describe how a retailer’s actions in these three areas can be redirected to target shoppers based on whether the shoppers are Health Vigilant, Health Predisposed, or Health Disinterested.

According to which category a shopper falls in, the retailer can tailor different marketing interventions that appeal to that shopper’s habits.

For instance, shoppers who are most interested in healthy eating may well visit in-recipe kiosks that might suggest ways to cook fish, whereas candy-free checkout aisles and front-of-store fruit displays attract all categories of shoppers.

The paper also points to a number of previous studies that focuses on using signage to make a healthy food more attractive through the way it is positioned or priced.

Foods like yogurt and granola have gone from being foreign oddities to favourite staples, the paper said adding that identifying the origins of these new norms could aid in forming sustainable healthy food trends, whether they include tofu or lab-grown meat.

Changes to store ‘structure’ such as moving fruit to front of the store or over to the cash register are already a familiar site in supermarkets.

The paper urged retailers to go one step further and consider using a store’s structure to make tofu become more popular, attractive or more ‘normal ‘to purchase.

Service too was an area that could be leveraged to include eye-tracking, smart shopping carts, video-tracking, and GPS technology.

“Whereas most interventions cannot show which of the three segments they impact most, new technologies could show the results of these interventions by either directly linking them to sales or indirectly doing so through shopper loyalty cards,” the paper commented.

A case study

Dr Wansink called on more research to better define the insights already garnered from previous studies that despite their potential had yet to form a cohesive, actionable plan for retailers.

The RIM has already been applied in Norway by a large grocery chain looking to reposition itself around environmentally sustainable fish.

All 457 stores adopted marketing approached that altered the variety, packaging, advertising, and price promotions of fish.

Over a two-year period, these efforts increased sales by 9%. In addition, 239 stores added strategies from the intervention matrix; the average increase was 28% more fish per transaction than in the first group of stores.

"This example shows one way research findings can be extrapolated, organized, and presented in a way that is compelling for managers who have little time or tolerance for ambiguity and nuance," said Dr Wansink.

Source:  Journal of Retailing

Published online ahead of print:

“Healthy Profits: An Interdisciplinary Retail Framework that Increases the Sales of Healthy Foods.”

Authors: Brian Wansink

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