Often you are tempted to buy unhealthy food in your local supermarket. But a few simple changes in the classification can already make a significant contribution in the fight against obesity.

No matter how strongly you intend to arrive at the checkout only with healthy food, it doesn’t always seem to work. And that is not so strange. Although on the one hand it is very difficult to ignore that delicious pack of cookies, the layout of the supermarket also plays a major role. In a new study researchers once again walked through the walking paths in the supermarket. And according to them, only a few simple changes can tempt you to make healthier food choices, not unhealthy.

Supermarket layout

Just after we entered the supermarket, there is not much going on. We are in the middle of the fruit and vegetable department and often end up in the bread department afterwards. But then the temptations begin. Supermarkets have an incredibly wide range of tasty, easy, cheap, but unfortunately less healthy food. And those unhealthy, processed products are often central and arranged in the walking route. Once you have arrived at the cash register, that one tasty chocolate bar is still waiting for you. It is therefore not surprising that you do not always come home with only healthy products.

Tempting healthier food choices

In a new study, researchers looked for ways to entice consumers to make healthier food choices. For example, could moving certain foodstuffs in the supermarket encourage healthier food purchases? “The results of scientific studies increasingly show that subtle marketing techniques, such as where products are placed in the supermarket, can influence the choices of customers,” said researcher Christina Vogel in an interview with Scientias.nl. “What was less clear, however, is whether these marketing techniques could also be used to encourage customers to make healthier food choices. And we have studied that – more extensively than ever.”

Fruit and vegetables at the entrance

The researchers find that placing vegetables, fruit and water at the store entrance encourages customers to make healthier food choices. In that regard, most Dutch supermarkets are doing quite well. “Some areas in the supermarket have proven to be particularly effective for promoting product sales,” explains Vogel. “One of them is at the entrance of the store. That’s because this is a prominent place and it’s easily seen by customers. Moreover, fruit and vegetables are colorful and attractive, they look fresh to customers who have just walked into the store.” And that tempts the customer to put healthy products in his shopping cart. “Our results show that almost 10,000 extra servings of greens and fruit are purchased each week if the fruit and vegetable department is located at the entrance of the store – not at the back of the store,” says Vogel.

Get away at the cash register

But of course it also works the other way around. Another very prominent and easily visible place in the supermarket is around and at the checkout. And that’s why we often find unhealthy chocolate bars, candies and chips here; the last possibility to tempt the customer into an impulse purchase. Removing these unsent products from the cash registers and nearby aisles has therefore proven to be remarkably effective. “When we took candy and confectionery away from the cash registers and nearby aisles, we sold about 1,500 fewer servings,” says Vogel.

Interests of the supermarket

The results of the study show conclusively that changing the layout of the supermarket can help people to come home with healthier food and to avoid unhealthy food. “It could shift the population’s diet towards government dietary recommendations,” Vogel said. The question is, of course; If it’s that easy, why haven’t supermarkets done it yet? “Supermarkets are part of a complex food system,” Vogel explains when asked. “Many drivers influence where products are placed in stores. And various factors determine the positioning of less healthy food and drinks in prominent places in the supermarket. Moreover, the supermarket world is very competitive. Several commercial reasons are likely to prevent supermarkets from voluntarily changing their store layout if their competitors don’t.”

In the fight against obesity

And that while it can be an important asset in the fight against obesity. Childhood obesity, for example, is a growing problem. And as this study shows, retail can play an important role in addressing this. “Our results show that substantial improvements can be made in the population’s diet as the layout of the supermarket changes,” Vogel said. “For example, five percent more fruit and vegetables were bought in stores with a healthier layout compared to conventional classified supermarkets. Such improvements in dietary habits can make a valuable contribution to tackling obesity.”

But the changes don’t happen by themselves. Whether supermarkets will decide on their own to adjust the layout remains to be seen. “Government intervention in the form of legislation is probably necessary to create a level playing field,” Vogel suggests. “In that case, for example, it could be made mandatory to place a fresh fruit and vegetable department at the entrance of the store. Although many large supermarket chains already do this, this classification has not been implemented in every supermarket. However, legislation can give all supermarkets an equal starting position. And that could encourage retailers to adopt healthier marketing strategies.”