Supermarkets are typically laid out to encourage costumers to make as many purchases as possible. The most frequented areas of the grocery store, such as the ends of aisles, are occupied by highest bidder. These choices are driven by profit margins, and not with the shopper’s health in mind.
But what if encouraging healthy purchases were a grocery store’s priority? The Marketplace Health Desk at WHYY public radio in Philadelphia takes a look at this topic. They interview Karen Glanz, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has done extensive research in consumer habits in supermarkets. She explains that she’s “trying to learn from what commercial marketers have been doing all along, see if we can’t turn that to health advantage.”
She’s teamed up with a local store, Fresh Grocer, to help rearrange the aisles to encourage healthier choices. Some of her strategies include moving healthier products to eye level, and placing healthier options right next to their junk-food equivalent. Paul Kourtis, the store’s manager, was surprised how well this trick has helped him sell more whole grain products. While Kourtis is will to make some concessions, he’s hesitant about Glanz’s wishes to “unsell” heavily-marketed unhealthy products.
One area of contention is the check-out line. “It’s an aisle that you’re kind of forced through!” said Glanz, but Kourtis doesn’t want to lose the high profit margin on processed foods. “Nobody wants product to stay on the shelf,” he said. One researcher said that the average American woman would lose four pounds per year by heading to self-checkout, where there are not candy bars to tempt shoppers.
Of course, a really radical way to encourage healthier choices would be to stock fewer unhealthy items, but Glanz’s work is certain a step in the right direction.