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Supermarket layout influences food choice and diet

Supermarket layout strongly influences customers’ food choices, according to a new study from the University of Southampton conducted in collaboration with the supermarket chain Iceland Foods Ltd. The scientists discovered that removing confectionary products and other unhealthy food choices from checkouts, and placing fruits and vegetables near store entrances promote healthier food purchases. 

The study took place in several Iceland stores in England and closely monitored sales and purchasing patterns of a sample of regular customers. Researchers found that store-wide confectionary sales decreased and food and vegetables sales increased in cases where water and non-food items were placed at checkouts, and a larger fruit and vegetable section was re-positioned near the store entrance.

 “Altering the layouts of supermarkets could help people make healthier food choices and shift population diet towards the government’s dietary recommendations. The findings of our study suggest that a healthier store layout could lead to nearly 10,000 extra portions of fruit and vegetables and approximately 1,500 fewer portions of confectionery being sold on a weekly basis in each store,” reported lead author Dr. Christina Vogel, a research fellow in Public Health Nutrition at the University of Southampton.

By investigating how reducing customers exposure to unhealthy food choices impacts store sales, regular purchasing patterns, and diets in a significant statistical sample, this study is one of the most comprehensive analyses of the effects of supermarket layout on customer choices and, implicitly, lifestyle and diet.

“We have been pleased to support this long-term study and the evaluation of how product placement in supermarkets can affect the diets of our customers,” said Matt Downes, Head of Format Development at Iceland Foods. “We know that childhood obesity is a growing issue and the retail industry has its part to play in tackling this. We hope that the outcomes of the study provide insights for the wider retail industry and policy makers about the impact of store merchandising on purchasing decisions.”

According to co-author Janis Baird, a Professor of Public Health and Epidemiology at the University’s MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Centre, this study provides “novel evidence to suggest that the intended UK government ban on prominent placement of unhealthy foods across retail outlets could be beneficial for population diet, and that effects may be further enhanced if requirements for a produce section near supermarket entrances were incorporated into the regulation.” 

The research was published in the journal PLOS Medicine.  

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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