A larger variety of fruit and vegetables to choose from in combination with lower prices led to higher sales figures, research conducted in Norwegian supermarkets shows.
In Norway there are major social differences in eating habits, particularly when it comes to fruit and vegetables. This may be one of the reasons for poorer health among those in lower income and educational brackets.
Around six in ten highly educated people eat vegetables every day, compared to four in ten lower educated people. The latter group also eats less fruit. At the same time, the information about healthier eating reaches the target group, namely those who eat less fruit and vegetables, less well.
Only two in ten eat enough
Annechen Bahr Bugge, researcher at the consumer research agency SIFO near Oslo Met: "Only two in ten people eat the amount of fruit and vegetables recommended by the health authorities." She conducted her research in the period 2011 to 2014.
“Consumers gave very different reasons for their low consumption. They included, poor accessibility while shopping, poor quality, that they forgot or that they are sceptical about the cultivation process, for example due to pesticides or fertiliser. ”
The researchers therefore wanted to test whether a larger assortment and other adjustments in the store, such as advertising campaigns, would tempt consumers. The results of the research now show that the adjustments have an effect.
Push in the right direction
The intention was to look at behavioural economic measures or the so-called nudging of consumers. This can contribute to the alignment of social health differences.
Previous studies have shown that consumers can be influenced to make the right choices, for example by an subconscious "friendly push" in the right direction.
Samira Lekhal is chief physician at the centre for morbid obesity and researches how people can be influenced to make healthy choices while shopping. "We want to see if the placement in the store and economic resources such as the price can contribute to equalising the social differences in food consumption."
She investigated whether the sale of fruit and vegetables increased after the introduction of price-stimulating measures in the Norwegian supermarket chains KIWI, Meny, Joker and Spar.
Vegetables and fruit more visible
Supermarket chain Meny built a pilot store in 2011 and decided to convert all stores following this. Fruit and vegetables were given the best possible place in the store. The fruit and vegetable department was also placed as close to the entrance as possible, so that it is the first thing you see when you enter. The department also became more spacious: from 15 to 20 percent of the store's surface.
Norgesgruppen (owner of the aforementioned supermarket chains) made the same kind of changes in most KIWI, Joker and Spar supermarkets.
In addition, KIWI introduced a discount of 15 percent, in accordance with the VAT on food, over several periods, plus a bonus discount on fruit and vegetables.
The researchers were then given access to Norgesgruppen sales figures before and after the changes.
More citrus, grapes and apples
Consumers also received a larger selection of fruit and vegetables to choose from. The number of vegetable varieties grew by 30 percent and the number of fruit varieties by 20 percent.
The sales figures for citrus increased the most. 33 percent more mandarins, limes, lemons and pomegranates were sold this year compared to 2015. After citrus follow grapes, apples and bananas.
More varieties of lettuce, tomato and onion are on sale than before, which means that the sales figures for these varieties have also grown.
KIWI sales increased by 34 percent
In total, sales of fruit and vegetables at the Norgesgruppen stores grew by 15 percent from 2015 to 2019.
The sales of vegetables increased the most by 20 percent, while the fruit sales increased by 9 percent. Of all chains, the KIWI supermarkets showed the largest increase in sales of fruit and vegetables: 34 percent.
The turnover can fall if the prices are lower, so the researchers also calculated how many pieces of each product were sold. This shows that more fruit was sold than before, even though the stores made less money from it.
Highly educated people buy twice as many vegetables
The increased consumption of fruit and vegetables has the most influence on consumers who did not often eat fruit and vegetables prior to this. The question is whether the changes affected this target group. The researchers compared the sales growth of various Norwegian provinces.
The research focused on the three provinces with the highest number (40 percent) and the three with the lowest number (26 to 27 percent) of highly educated individuals. Sales of fruit and vegetables were much higher in the three provinces with the most highly educated people: in 2019 it was even 2.5 times larger than in the provinces with the least highly educated people.
Largest growth in provinces with fewer educated people
Conversely, the largest growth in sales of fruit and vegetables was in the provinces with the least highly educated people. For comparison: sales of fruit and vegetables increased by 16 percent in the highest educated provinces, while sales in the lowest educated provinces increased by 254 percent (measured in number of units sold). Consumers bought three times as many fruit and vegetables there as before.
If the percentages are adjusted according to the number of inhabitants (for example, in the provinces with the most highly educated people are the cities of Oslo and Bergen), sales there increased by 11 percent, compared to a 14 percent increase in the provinces with the least highly educated people.
Lekhal: "This proves that the layout of the supermarket can influence consumers who do not consciously opt for healthier alternatives."
Lots of potential
Annechen Bahr Bugge: “A lot of people want to eat more vegetables and 78 percent say they like vegetables. But even though vegetables are at the top of the list of what people consider healthy eating in 2018/2019, there are still challenges. According to the Norwegian health authorities, consumption of both fruit and vegetables has fallen by 2 percent in the last year. "
Thanks to the positive results of the research by Lekhal, among others, Bugge thinks that the "friendly push" strategy has a lot of potential: "It ensures that consumers can make the right choices regarding food."
The report was carried out by the independent GreeNudge on the initiative of Norgesgruppen. Objective sales numbers have been used and the analyses are independent.