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  • Writer's pictureJulie de Vaan

Stimulating healthy food choices? Work to do for our supermarkets

Updated: Apr 11, 2022

In the National Prevention Agreement (NL), supermarkets showed their good intentions in the field of public health. They want to encourage healthy food choices. In a recent study, however, four health funds conclude that there is still a lot of room for improvement for supermarkets. How can supermarkets create a situation in which healthy and not unhealthy food choices are encouraged, without limiting the offer and choices?

A number of important buttons that determine which food choices people make in the supermarket, are:

  • Personal norms and values: what do people find important when it comes to nutrition? For example, do they find it important that food is tasty, healthy, easy or filling? Most people think health is important, but are not very committed to or involved in this in the supermarket. That's why they usually choose based on taste (what looks good to me) and functionality (what do I need).

  • Recognizability and attractiveness: which choices are clearly in line with what people consider important? And which choices are the most attractive? In the supermarket it is not always clear which choices are healthier than others. In addition, unhealthy choices often seem more attractive than healthy choices.

  • Convenience and availability: which choices are the most convenient and available? In the supermarket, the range of unhealthy products is often more prominent than healthy products.

The challenge for supermarkets is to create a situation that pushes these buttons right in order to stimulate healthier food choices. Some important steps every supermarket should take, are:

  1. Make the choice for healthy food the easiest choice. This can be done by making healthy choices more prominent and unhealthy choices less prominent. This way, you ensure that without thinking too much about it, people will make responsible choices rather than irresponsible ones.

  2. Make healthy options at least as attractive as unhealthy options. For example, by not focusing on health while communicating about healthy options, but (especially) on other aspects that people find important, such as taste or freshness. This way, you ensure that even people who do not consider health important, still make more responsible choices.

  3. For people who do find health important, make it very clear which products are healthy and which are unhealthy, for example with the Nutri-score. This allows people with the intention to make healthy choices to make well informed decisions.

Of course, this is just a selection of all the buttons that are important for healthy food choices, and supermarkets can do much more to stimulate healthy behavior. It is especially important that they recognize their influence on choices people make, and take responsibility. The situation they create has a major influence on the choices that consumers make.

By creating a situation that pushes buttons for healthier choices, supermarkets can really make an impact. The main challenge for supermarkets is their broad target audience: what works for one person, doesn't always work for another. A major advantage for supermarkets, is that they have a physical space which they can completely arrange in such a way that it encourages healthy food choices.

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