6 Ways Food Stores Can Save Money and Promote Healthy Eating

food psychology grocery shopping

One of the primary channels through which grocery stores lose money is via product spoilage. Let’s be honest, without the addition of various chemical preservatives (and goodness knows what else) fresh fruits and vegetables simply do not last as long as their processed and prepackaged counterparts. And as more fresh food spoils, the choices that health conscious consumers have in their food selection become more restricted. Clearly then, both food stores and food shoppers will benefit greatly if more fresh healthy food is available for sale each month. How can this be done? Consider these 6 ways:


1. Move fresh produce to the front of the store

Grocers should station their fresh fruits and veggies so that they are the first thing shoppers see when they enter the store. Not only does this strategy immediately bring healthy food to the attention of consumers, it also primes shoppers to associate “farm freshness” with other food items available for sale. Major supermarkets such as Whole Foods place fresh flowers at the entrance of their stores, so that the “farm fresh” theme will be an underlying tone of the overall shopping experience.


2. Use soft, focused lighting [showmyads]

Dr. Brian Wansink, co-director of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs and author of the bestselling book Mindless Eating, suggests that food items placed under soft, focused lighting as opposed to harsh overhead fluorescent lights, increase in sales by about 30%. This remarkable upturn is due to the simple fact that fresh  food looks more appealing under these recommended lighting conditions. What’s the bottom line? By changing a few light bulbs, grocery stores can reduce food spoilage, increase fresh food sales and help promote healthy eating.


3. Keep fresh produce at eye level

Grocery shopping is not the same as shopping for gorgeous new clothes or a brand new laptop. In fact, most people see grocery shopping as a necessary chore rather than a form of recreation. As such, it essential that stores do not give shoppers any extra work to find fresh produce. Dr. Wansink recommends keeping fresh food items at eye level. Grocers need to remember that customers did not come to their stores to hunt for food. Customers only want to buy. By putting healthy perishable items directly in the buyer’s line of sight, stores will be making the shopping experience much easier and far more efficient.


4. Offer tasty samples, give recipes

In general, processed foods have an advantage over fresh produce in terms of preparation time and required cooking experience. A nine year old child can (1) Add water (2) Microwave for 3 minutes (3) Stir and (4) Enjoy a bowl of quick fix mac n’ cheese without breaking a sweat. Preparing chunky homemade soup from scratch is another matter entirely. However, grocers can promote fresh food sales by highlighting the advantages of eating healthy. Taste and nutrition are two areas in which fresh foods outstrip their factory processed counterparts and by offering delicious samples, shoppers will be greatly influenced to buy the tastier product. By giving out quick and easy-to-make fresh food recipes, grocers can also educate inexperienced cooks on how to prepare healthy homemade meals while still keeping the preparation time to a minimum.


5. Use sexy names

Research conducted by Dr. Wansink and his colleagues at the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab shows that people perceive foods with sexy names as being more appealing. As such, food stores should be looking to add some creativity to their food labeling in order to shape the way their buyers think about their fresh food items. And this strategy makes perfect sense. If consumers THINK there is something unappealing, bland or boring about the products for sale, then it is unlikely they will buy these products. Even if they eventually taste samples of the items, their initial negative perception might influence them to rate the fresh products poorly. If you have a sign that simply says WATERMELONS why not try changing it to something more appealing?…BIG JUICY MELONS? That’s a start. Very few men could resist a pitch like that.


6. Use “anchoring” but don’t overdo it

Science Daily explains:

Anchoring or focalism is a term used in psychology to describe the common human tendency to rely too heavily, or “anchor,” on one trait or piece of information when making decisions. During normal decision making, individuals anchor, or overly rely, on specific information or a specific value and then adjust to that value to account for other elements of the circumstance. Usually once the anchor is set, there is a bias toward that value.

Grocery stores use anchoring on a daily basis – Buy 2 get 1 free! or Sale! 10 items for the price of 1! This marketing technique influences buyers to focus solely on the price and the number of items involved in the deal. In many cases, once this information has been processed, the buyer sees the sale as an opportunity not to be missed and forgets (or disregards) other important factors such as product quality. While food stores are encouraged to use anchoring to draw attention to their fresh produce (and most shoppers do appreciate a great deal), Dr. Wansink suggests that grocers should not overdo it. Buyers must feel as if they are making their own decisions. If they are bombarded with health information, they will resist.


Fulton, A. (2010, November 8). Nudging grocery shoppers toward healthy food. NPR. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=131074210 on May 7, 2012.

Greenberg, M. (2012, March 14). Ten ways your local grocery store hijacks your brain. Psychology Today. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201203/ten-ways-your-local-grocery-store-hijacks-your-brain on May 7, 2012.

Editor, Science Daily. Anchoring bias in decision-making. Science Daily. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/articles/a/anchoring.htm on May 7, 2012.

Wansink, B., van Ittersum, K., & Painter, J. E. (2005). How descriptive food names bias sensory perceptions in restaurants. Food Quality and Preference, 16(5), 393-400. doi: 10.1016/j.foodqual.2004.06.005

Photo courtesy of akeeris / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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