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How can I make myself buy healthier food whilst shopping?

The supermarket is the place where we make some of our most important food choices. So how can we make sure that the decisions we make are healthy ones?

The first step towards healthy eating is healthy buying, but when we shop for food our minds are rarely fully focused on the task at hand.

Instead, we’re distracted by everything else that’s going on in our lives and side-tracked by the marketing and branding messages being hurled at us from all angles.

This means that more often than not we fall back on old habits and end up with shopping baskets full of the same unhealthy foods.

We wanted to see whether we could cut through this food fog and make better shopping decisions so we turned to behaviour experts Claire McDonald and Ed Gardiner for ideas.

The experiment

With the help of Claire and Ed, we tried out a range of behavioural science techniques in a Derbyshire Coop to see if they encouraged people to buy more fruit and veg. We ran the experiment for 6 weeks and compared the sales in our supermarket with a set of control stores. Our experiment featured:

  • Cardboard cut outs reminding us to buy fruit and veg. These were placed in the fruit and veg aisle to snap customers out of their food fog and remind them of their good intentions. We hoped that the fact that the message was being delivered by one of our trusted Trust Me presenters would also help.
  • Trolley labels. We marked areas of trolleys and baskets as designated space for putting fruit and veg. The idea was that this would act as another timely reminder to buy these products but would also tap into the behavioural science concept of social proof – that we’re more likely to do things if we think other people are doing them too.
  • Inspiring signage. We took techniques that are usually used to advertise confectionary and drinks and used them to advertise fruit and veg – we used inviting language to describe the products and included inspiring serving suggestions next to shelves.
  • Fruit promotions. We tested a new theory that eating fruit before we shop actually encourages us to buy more fruit. For a single day we ran a clementine promotion which featured tasty samples being handed out as customers entered the store.

The results

We ran our study for six weeks and analysed sales data alongside data from a selection of similar control stores. In our store vegetable sales went up by 8% and on our fruit promotion day clementine sales increased three times more than in our control stores.

This suggests that timely reminders and prompts at the point of decision can really help us to remember our priorities and shop more healthily.

These techniques are also things that are easy to replicate ourselves, whether it’s designating a section of our trolley for fruit and veg, putting timely reminders on our shopping lists or grabbing some fruit as we leave the house.

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