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Shopper marketing nutrition interventions: Social norms on grocery carts increase produce spending without increasing shopper budgets

Payne, Collin R., Mihai Niculescu, David R. Just and Michael P. Kelly (2015). Shopper marketing nutrition interventions: Social norms on grocery carts increase produce spending without increasing shopper budgets. Preventive Medicine Reports, 2, 287-291. doi:10.1016/j.pmedr.2015.04.007

Today, grocery carts tend to contain few fruits and vegetables and many packaged and processed foods. Grocery stores account for over 50% of all food expenditures thus, interventions in this environment could potentially have a significant impact on public health. However, there is limited research targeting nutrition interventions to increase fruit and vegetable demand in grocery stores. This study assesses the efficacy of an easy-to-implement shopper marketing nutrition intervention to increase fruit and vegetable demand without decreasing store profitability or increasing shopper budgets.  

We created grocery cart placards that indicated how many produce items are normally purchased by costumers at particular stores. These norms were determined by evaluating spending across 971,706 individual person grocery store transactions. The pilot study, conducted in Texas in 2012, consisted of a baseline period in both the control and intervention store followed by implementation of the grocery cart placards in the intervention store for two weeks.  Two additional interventions were then conducted in New Mexico in 2013. In these stores, baseline periods were designated followed by 28 days of the same grocery cart placard intervention as in the pilot.

Results for the pilot study showed a 16% increase in average produce spending per day per person when place cards were used. Moreover, produce spending significantly increased by 12.4% and 7.5% per day per person in the two additional intervention stores, respectively. Total spending did not change in any of the stores.

The finding that total spending remained the same in all stores suggests that the intervention was able to increase produce purchasing without decreasing store profitability or increasing shopper budgets. Thus, descriptive and provincial social norm messages, such as on grocery cart placards, may be a valuable tool in increasing fruit and vegetable purchases in grocery stores.