There is no lack of information on healthy and sustainable eating. Whether in education, in information campaigns, in shops, or on product labels, information on healthy and sustainable eating can be found everywhere. But in a world full of temptations, busy consumers find it hard to shop responsibly.
Availability of information about what is healthy and sustainable is indeed a prerequisite for making responsible choices, says Prof Hans van Trijp of the Marketing and Consumer Behaviour (MCB) group. ‘But unfortunately research shows time and again that it is not enough to change consumer behaviour. Even if information is summarised in the eyes of the consumer with a so-called front-of-pack logo or label, it hardly attracts any attention. The idea 'if people can know, they will act on it' is, unfortunately, a persistent misunderstanding. Practice in the supermarket is proving to be unruly.’
‘We want to better understand consumer choices in order to create a scientific basis for well-founded interventions in the supermarket that encourage consumers to make healthy and sustainable choices', says Van Trijp. It is a challenge that has been laid down by the national government in the Prevention Agreement and the vision of circular agriculture.
Almost all Dutch retailers, organised within the Central Bureau for Food Retail, have agreed to work together to promote healthy choices in the physical and online supermarket. They therefore participate in a scientific Public Private Partnership (PPP) research programme, together with the MCB group, aimed at interventions on the (online) shop floor that go beyond simply providing information in a traditional way. Van Trijp: 'The key question is what role information about nutritional value and sustainability plays when a consumer is considering buying a product or placing it in a shopping cart. So: how do consumers' fundamental information processing processes work and how can bottle-necks be circumvented? The interventions to be developed are the proof of the pudding.'
'As experts in the field of marketing and consumer behaviour, we look at these questions from the core concepts of value creation and loyalty', says Van Trijp. 'In other words: how can healthy and sustainable products be turned into value propositions that are attractive for consumers to choose, buy and consume? And not just once, but as part of a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. This requires scientific knowledge development at the interface between consumer behaviour (consumer psychology) and marketing science.'
With this research project, the MCB group is building on a long-standing tradition of research into stimulating healthy food choices, also in relation to previous food choice logos such as the (former) Checkmark, Traffic Lights and GDA logos. Hans van Trijp: 'Now that the Dutch have chosen the NutriScore as the national food choice logo, this line of research is broadening and deepening towards the question of what else is needed in addition to such a logo to stimulate healthy choice. It is about - so to speak - bringing the healthy products to the attention to the customers in the online as well as the physical supermarket much more emphatically.'
According to Van Trijp, the big challenge is to get people 'out of their routine' and point out healthier variants at the right time and in the right way. This can be done in all sorts of ways, for example by rearranging the shelf or shop. But you can also offer discounts on healthy shopping baskets or health stamps that people can save. With online shopping you can offer the possibility that only the highest NutriScore is offered. Not to mention getting feedback from your fitbit or shopping with a personal health coach in the form of a smartphone app.'
In order to get the most effective interventions to the Dutch supermarkets as quickly as possible, the researchers will conduct experiments on three levels. First in controlled lab situations (proof of principle), then in semi-realistic circumstances such as in a virtual supermarket environment or online experimental store (proof of concept), and finally scaled up in field experiments in physical and online supermarkets (proof of implementation). ‘With all Dutch retailers on board and with the urgency of the Prevention Agreement and vision of circular agriculture as a stick behind the door, we expect to be able to scale up the research quickly, both online and offline and both experimentally and through field experiments on the websites and in the shops’, says Van Trijp.