The UK grocery retail market was valued at a sizable £184.8 billion last year. But do major supermarkets have a role to play in helping to chart a fresh future for the nation’s health?
RSPH and Slimming World certainly believe so. The result is the recently launched pop-up Nudge @ The People’s Supermarket in central London – the UK’s first ever supermarket designed by public health and retail industry experts.
At the end of 2017 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reported that the UK was the most overweight country in Western Europe. According to its research, fewer than 15% of the public believe supermarkets are doing enough to tackle the UK’s obesity epidemic. The report also reveals that over 36% of shoppers say that they impulse purchase unhealthy products because they are on special offer, while one in five say supermarkets cause them to go off track when attempting to lose weight.
In recent months, they and leading retail specialists, including Visual Thinking, have been working to explore how existing retail layouts and the shopper experience could be re-imagined to change existing purchase choices. So, naturally, we were first in line to visit the store on opening day to see how the final concept hopes to nudge shoppers (and retailers) in a new and healthier direction.
It’s important to note; the store was purposefully not ‘refit’ or had any significant new capital investment. Here, the idea was to introduce a raft of practical low cost, everyday layout, presentation, display and POS changes that a ‘typical grocery shopkeeper’ could introduce quickly and easily without having to be hampered by the big cost of investment, or the operational upheaval to do it. In this respect, the pop-up most definitely delivers.
Shelf layout…has been changed to focus the most nutritious products at eye and buy level.
Along with a bright, optimistic colour palette and font set to stimulate affection for ‘doing better’ things, the store’s retail communication creates a fun, accessible and non-preachy personality and tone of voice that’s designed to ‘welcome people in’ instead of simply pointing out negative aspects of current shopping habits and choices. To be clear, the development of this experimental store has been approached from a more obvious prompting and ‘positive and enabling’ communication stance. It was not about lecturing shoppers on what they should or should not be cooking and eating, but instead encouraging and offering support to people in their often subconscious desire to eat and live well and feel better within themselves.
Supermarkets often contribute to over-consumption of calories, using various tactics to convince shoppers to buy more items. Layout, promotions and sensory cues all subtly influence consumers to maximise profit. One study found that 73% of parents had a food request from their child while shopping, and 88% of requested items were unhealthy foods. The combination of ‘pester power’ and the availability of unhealthy products in supermarkets is a likely and unwelcome contributor to the high levels of childhood obesity.
Within this store, shelf layout for groceries has been changed to focus the most nutritious products at eye and buy level. Both layout and shelf allocation are based on what constitutes a balanced diet, according to the Eatwell guide. Elsewhere, ‘Nudge Points’ encourage shoppers to swap to healthier alternatives, while fresh fruit options and impactful POS messaging are placed alongside traditional impulse goods.
There has also been a great deal of focus placed on the importance of having knowledgeable and friendly staff with basic nutritional training that they can share with customers. Meanwhile, there are free samples of wholesome and nutritious, healthy food alternatives and live cookery demonstrations made at the onsite kitchen.
The challenge now, as is often the way in retail, is one of scale.
Make no mistake: there are plenty of examples of considered, and new, thinking on display within this store. The challenge now, as is often the way in retail, is one of scale – nurturing the seeds of good ideas into solutions that can be adopted, and make a visible difference, to supermarkets of every size, in every city, every day. Adopting many of the initiatives seen within this pop-up concept would require plenty of additional consideration, and possibly significant adaptation, for them to ‘make it’ in the world of major supermarket environments.
Nudge at The People’s Supermarket certainly shines a light on the need for change, and offers some interesting suggestions on what could be done. In recent months, however, the issue of obesity has been overtaken by the focus on how supermarkets can reduce plastic consumption and improve overall sustainability within stores. But like the key to healthier eating itself; grocery retailers will surely need to achieve greater balance in all areas that affect consumers moving forward – altering supermarkets and taking ownership by educating and empowering people to make healthier choices, being one of them. Here, Tesco and Waitrose should be applauded. Both have openly acknowledged that they could do more to promote healthy eating. Tesco has partnered with Jamie Oliver to encourage healthy swaps, while Waitrose set out plans in 2018 to introduce healthy eating specialists to the shop floor.
Returning to Nudge at The People’s Supermarket, the key takeout from this pop-up concept is that success lies in retailers’ ability to empower consumers to make these changes themselves through creating an environment that promotes a healthier diet. Rather than removing choice, or playing on negative associations, Nudge is all about making it easier for shoppers to choose healthier alternatives and put less emphasis on promotions of foods likely to cause weight gain. It should certainly provide supermarkets with plenty of food for thought, and if they were to approach this in the same public spirited and commercially focused way, could be a vital step in the right direction to seize the initiative within the wider grocery industry.