Retail Grocery Store Marketing Strategies and Obesity

This literature review points to in-store strategies to promote the purchase of healthful foods and discourage the purchase of unhealthful foods. The review also suggests public health researchers can leverage methods used by the grocery industry to assess consumer behavior.

Americans buy most of their food at grocery stores. In-store marketing potentially offers the opportunity to influence what consumers put in their carts to take home and eat. Most of the research on how to influence consumer food store purchases has been conducted by marketing, consumer behavior and industry researchers, not by public health researchers. This review of 125 peer-reviewed articles, looks at industry and academic literature from 1995–2010 on methods to influence consumer food purchases in physical grocery stores.

Key Findings:

  • The review identified nine findings distributed among the four “marketing mix” components (product, price, place, and promotion), as well as “promising strategies” and “research needs” that align with each finding.
  • Although the evidence is limited, it does suggest healthy purchases can be increased by “increasing availability, affordability, prominence, and promotion” of healthy foods, as well as by “de-marketing” unhealthy foods.
  • The article highlights research related to specific in-store marketing techniques, including that point-of-purchase promotion of healthy foods has not been proven effective. However, presenting consumers with fewer options in a product category, and placing healthier foods near their less-healthy counterparts, seem to drive consumers toward healthful options.

The authors note the need to build an evidence base on how to influence consumers to buy healthier foods. Observing that data related to supermarket sales, inventory, and shopper loyalty programs could be valuable sources of insight. The authors call for public health researchers, grocery retailers, and marketing designers to work together to design “health-promoting marketing strategies.”