Shopping Smart Confusing Customers?

May 15, 2012

Smart grocery shopping is not an easy task, with various shelf tags, front of package labeling and more consumers aren't getting the message.

Most supermarkets are taking an active role in helping consumers make healthful food choices - with shelf tags, store tours, info in circulars, and more. But does this information actually help, or does it just confuse consumers? A study published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior set out to test the best health interventions. Titled, "Who knows how to use these grocery store shelf signs?,” investigators from Arizona State University and the University of Arizona College of Medicine–Phoenix studied a group of 153 grocery shoppers.

The first group was sent into the store without any prep information except for the usual information provided at the chain - which (in this particular store) included 600 shelf tags to identify food items considered “healthier options,” “heart healthy,” “low sodium,” “calcium rich,” or “immune boosting.” All regulations are in accordance with the Food and Drug Administration labeling regulations and the guidelines of the American Heart Association.

The second group, the intervention group, received a 10 minute in-person counseling session by a nutrition educator. The session included an overview of label reading and instructions on how to use the five nutrition shelf tags emphasizing foods included in the Heart Healthy (low-fat dairy, leaner beef and pork, and sources of healthy fats), and Immune Booster (increasing dark-green, orange, red, and yellow fruit and vegetables) signs.

Both groups were sent in to purchase groceries. After finishing shopping, the investigators assessed their shopping baskets for a variety of indicators. In-person counseling resulted in greater purchasing of healthful food items such as fruit and green and yellow vegetables.

Dr. Brandy-Joe Milliron, the lead author concludes, “Previous point of purchase supermarket interventions have had modest effects on food purchasing patterns. Food purchasing patterns are predictive of actual dietary intake, and even the modest effects from our study could translate into meaningful health benefits if sustained long term.”

We’re all responsible for helping to tackle the obesity crisis; if our current efforts are not producing the desired effect, assisting shoppers in-person with label reading and understanding shelf tags may be the intervention needed to create change.