Activating well-being goals in grocery stores: innovative strategies for encouraging healthy food purchases

In a recent study published in the Food Quality and Preference Journal, researchers discussed the concept of priming shoppers' well-being goals in grocery stores.

Study: Priming shoppers’ well-being goal in grocery stores: Moving toward healthier food choices? Image Credit: nonc/Shutterstock.comStudy: Priming shoppers’ well-being goal in grocery stores: Moving toward healthier food choices? Image Credit: nonc/Shutterstock.com

Background

In light of the growing obesity epidemic, it is important to understand how to encourage food shoppers to make healthier choices. Frameworks have been introduced to assist companies, academics, and policy-makers in their pursuit.

The present research investigates whether promoting the motivational target of well-being can lead to increased consumption of healthier food in real grocery stores.

About the study

In the present study, researchers hypothesized that in-store stimuli might serve as a primer for various consumer goals, such as health and sustainability.

Study 1 (S1) investigated whether visual well-being goal primers impact shoppers' movements and food sales with varying symbolism within a grocery store.

In Study 2 (S2), the team performed a field experiment in the same store to evaluate how multiple sensory cues impact shopper movements and sales in relation to activating well-being goals.

Olfactory and gustatory cues were utilized alongside visual priming stimuli to trigger the well-being goal. The studies involved choosing products with either aligned or conflicted health images to promote well-being.

A field experiment was conducted at a grocery store in Turku, Finland, for S1. Due to its proximity to campus areas, the store's customer base during the fall season consisted mainly of university students. The duration of the experiment was six weeks. Weeks one and two were deemed as a period of adjustment.

In week three, four digital displays were utilized in four different locations to promote the well-being target via a video that was continuously played on the displays.

In S2, the team collaborated with the same store. Olfactory and gustatory cues were introduced to complement the visual goal primes. The aim was to identify foods and scents that symbolically align with the study's visual well-being goal.    

Results

The store had 37,494 visitors during the monitoring phase, with an average of 12,498 weekly visits. A consistent trend was observed when comparing the stops, entrances, and actual purchases between the well-being and control goal priming weeks.

The well-being week saw an increase in stops, snack shelf entrances, and sales of snack items. The findings on the animal protein product shelf were not consistent.

Well-being goal-priming had a positive effect on entrances to the animal protein product shelf, but it did not result in a significant effect on stops. However, minced beef meat package sales decreased remarkably.

The heart-healthy food shopping basket showed a positive impact on sales. Basket sales increased across the well-being goal prime week compared to the control weeks. Sales for the red meat shopping basket showed no significant difference.

The results suggest that activated goals can impact shoppers' movements in a real grocery store. The study showed that cues for visual well-being goal priming could alter stopping behaviors and shoppers' routing. Changes in sales could be linked to actual sales of foods with a positive health image. 

A pre-test was conducted to examine consumers' associations with three seasonal foods, namely strawberries, carrots, and raspberries. Carrots were chosen as the most suitable option for the taste samples.

Carrots were believed to be healthier than strawberries or raspberries based on the results of the one-sample t-tests. Carrot symbolism is the most effective in promoting well-being, although strawberries and raspberries perform well.

The basil scent was chosen to promote well-being. Basil scent had the most significant health associations. The experience was rated above the scale's midpoint and ranked among the top three concerning pleasantness. The basil scent was considered a suitable addition to the existing sensory cues to align to promote well-being symbolically.

The increased presence of vegetable and fruit islands during the well-being week did not impact sales or customer traffic. No differences were found in entrances between the goal priming and control weeks concerning the results obtained from the ice cream freezer. Across the well-being goal priming week, shoppers stopped more at the ice cream freezer, but sales decreased.

No significant differences were found in the relative proportions of food basket sales between the control and well-being goal priming week. Organic food shopping basket sales, which were considered healthier than indulgent options, remained consistent over two weeks. The sales of high-calorie food baskets did not change when customers were exposed to a multisensory well-being goal prime.

Conclusion

The study findings showed that the well-being goal priming in a real store could lead consumers to choose healthier options, resulting in increased sales of vegetables, yogurts, and heart-healthy products.

Activation of the well-being goal may initially lead to a paradoxical effect of approaching indulgent foods. Popular food items like minced beef meat and ice cream may decrease sales. The research has significant practical as well as academic implications.

Journal reference:
Bhavana Kunkalikar

Written by

Bhavana Kunkalikar

Bhavana Kunkalikar is a medical writer based in Goa, India. Her academic background is in Pharmaceutical sciences and she holds a Bachelor's degree in Pharmacy. Her educational background allowed her to foster an interest in anatomical and physiological sciences. Her college project work based on ‘The manifestations and causes of sickle cell anemia’ formed the stepping stone to a life-long fascination with human pathophysiology.

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