IGD is carrying out ongoing work into how to encourage healthier diets

A series of changing interventions could be key to helping boost fruit and vegetable consumption, a new study has indicated.

Several factors affect consumers' food purchasing decisions

Several factors affect consumers’ food purchasing decisions

This week IGD published a report summarising the findings to date from a study into nudging healthier consumer choices in stores, and it revealed a number of different scenarios which could have an impact on fresh produce sales.

The research, which has formed part of a longer programme of work in collaboration with the Consumer Data Research Centre at the University of Leeds, was last year awarded the Economic and Social Research Council ‘Celebrating Impact’ prize. The work continues this year, with findings from major UK retailers due in the winter.

The latest report highlights key levers identified as crucial to nudging consumers towards healthier and more sustainable food choices. It covers a period of over four years in which consumer research exploring shoppers’ attitudes and buying behaviours was undertaken, followed by trials into alternative placements of foods, incentivisation (pricing) and communications to customers.

Behaviour change in stores has long been a challenge, and it is widely understood that there is a difference between what consumers say will change their behaviours and buying habits.

The impact of cost and positioning

Cost is considered the primary factor in shopping choices, with 37 per cent of consumers surveyed citing it as a major barrier to healthy diets.

The research showed that in 2022, when a variety of promoted fruit and vegetables were priced at 60p in a major retailer, there was a 78 per cent increase in sales of portions of promoted fruit and veg. However, three weeks into the four-week intervention period, sales of the promoted fruit and veg declined, suggesting the effectiveness of the intervention decreased with time.

Vouchers could also have a key role to play, as when a £2 top-up was provided to the government’s Healthy Start Vouchers, 13 more portions of fruit and veg were being bought per redeeming transaction in one major retailer.

Placement in the aisles of a store is also a key lever for change, according to IGD’s report. Multiple trials have seen a fall in spending on unhealthy items when they are removed from the convenience area near checkouts. When one retailer removed confectionery from off-fixture displays and introduced a ‘Fresh 3’ fixture instead, there was an increase in sales of healthier products in the first 30 weeks.

Lastly, effective and well-positioned customer communications, or ‘signposting’, has been recognised as behaviour change. One trial saw messages about calories, fat, saturated fat, sugar and fibre displayed next to products. Shoppers proved more open to switching to healthier options when messages focused on calories or sugar.

IGD has recommended that the industry keeps testing such interventions in real-life settings and that these are robustly evaluated to build evidence of their effectiveness. IGD’s Health team is currently working on the Dietary and Health Inequalities project in collaboration with the University of Leeds and University of Aberdeen to analyse the impact of HFSS location restrictions in stores, with results due this winter.

Making healthy diets accessible

Cathy Capelin, head of health and sustainable diets at IGD, said: ”We know that less than 1 per cent of people in the UK are meeting government dietary recommendations and obesity has been trending upwards for some time. We want to make healthy and sustainable diets accessible to everyone, and this research will provide science-based, data-driven evidence to support the changes needed.”

Naomi Kissman, social impact director at IGD, added: “This groundbreaking programme of work on consumer behaviour change, alongside our study with major retailers on the impact of HFSS location restrictions, will support industry and policymakers to make clear, evidence-based decisions on how to support consumers towards healthier choices.”