Examining the whys and wherefores of consumer behaviour and trying to influence and manipulate consumer spending is vital in retail success. The convenience sector is no different and with greater understanding, the possibilities for fresh produce abound, as Produce Business UK finds out
In partnership with Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) in the US has been testing how retailers can alter a store’s environment to persuade customers to make better, healthier choices and increase sales of better for you products, of which fresh produce clearly ranks highly.
The research was co-ordinated by Adam Brumberg, deputy director at the lab and someone who already knows a lot about consumers’ food decisions. According to Brumberg, there are two decision-making mechanisms, deliberative (or cold) and emotional (hot).
In a deliberative or cold state, consumers think rationally. They consider price, health information and use logic in order to determine what to buy. This translates into smaller portions and moderate foods. However when in an emotional or hot state, consumers eat for taste, convenience and size. This means we buy bigger portions and choose more hedonistic foodstuffs.
Taste follows expectation
But Brumberg and the Cornell team also show that perhaps consumers don’t know what they like and that as consumers, we can be manipulated into choosing what we buy and eat. The 2004 study How Descriptive Food Names Bias Sensory Perception in Restaurants undertaken by Cornell researcher Brian Wansink, with colleague Koert van Ittersum and James E. Painter from the University of Groningen and Eastern Illinois University respectively, demonstrated that labels influence taste and taste follows expectation. As part of the research 117 diners were given the same wine, but with two different labels. One from North Dakota (not a renowned wine-making region) and the other from California (assuredly a wine-making area). Those given the Californian label all expressed a higher positive recognition of the wine taste, the food taste and how full they felt.
Another area in which convenience stores can encourage sales is the order in which products are presented to shoppers. In a buffet setting, the first foods that you see take up 68% of your plate. Brumberg urges convenience stores that want to up sales of healthier produce – fruit and vegetables – to place it front and centre. Make it the first thing shoppers see.
Variety is also key, Brumberg explains, emphasising the importance of creating the perception of meaningful selection. So rather than have 50 items on display, a store can have just seven foodstuffs but by utilising clever merchandising a retailer can create the perception of variety. By combining items and forming an illusion of choice and variety, stores can increase sales by a staggering 77%.
So, how can convenience stores use these principles to promote healthy shopping without hurting their bottom line? Brumberg believes using descriptive words to promote food is one method. Tap into customers’ taste expectations. So instead of red beans with rice, go for traditional Cajun red beans with rice, succulent Italian seafood fillet sounds better than seafood fillet, while chicken Parmesan can be upgraded to home-style chicken Parmesan and chocolate pudding made more enticing if it is styled as satin chocolate pudding. Brumberg points out that these named items were selected 27% more often. And moreover, customers were willing to pay 10% more for them.
Taste expectations really work with children too. When carrots are described as x-ray vision carrots consumption is doubled and highlighting products also leads to an increase in sales. By giving white milk prominence in store, purchases rose by 46%.
Eight ideas to grow healthy sales
Brumberg has come up with eight evidence-based ideas to help convenience stores in growing better-for-you sales. He said these were all the result of tests carried out at c-stores and were mindful of the things the stores were already good at such as speed, convenience and maximising limited space.
1. ‘Grab’ them immediately
Offer a grab-and-go area at the entrance of the store with a small selection of healthier snacks and better-for-you items
• It sets the tone of the offer
• Include whole or prepared fruit and vegetables, water and essentials such as yoghurt, milk, eggs and wholegrain breads
• Bundle healthier items for convenience
2. Variety sells produce
Provide at least three varieties of pre‐cut packaged fruits and vegetables in a chill-cabinet
• Merchandise at both eye level for adults and eye-level for children
• Use signage emphasising availability
• Emphasise portability
3. Use creative adjectives Describe healthier meals and snacks with creative and/or descriptive names
• Make sure these descriptions feel credible
• Emphasise the benefits of better‐for‐you items
4. Remember the convenience factor At the till, offer individual containers of prepared fresh fruit or vegetables with utensils packaged with them or visibly next to them, as well as other healthy snack options
• Create and impulse purchase
• Reminds customers of your offer, even if they don’t purchase at that time
• Include straws for smoothies or juice drinks
• Signs directing them to grab‐and‐go or chill-cabinets
5. Have multiple displays
Use in‐aisle and end-of-aisle displays to promote healthier options, keeping similar categories together
• Don’t make customers hunt – they won’t buy it if they don’t see it
• Mix healthy items with similar regular items
• Display quick and easy pairings, such as bananas with coffee
6. Let your store “talk”
Use signs and stickers on chill-cabinets and displays that provide “Did You Know?” functional benefit facts and/or positive messages about specific healthy foods
• “Drinking water keeps you hydrated”
• Promote produce high in Vitamin C during cold and flu season
7. Direct their feet
Use floor stickers to help customers locate healthier foods within each section of the store
• Create suggested traffic patterns
• Sticker arrows and call out signs guide customers to specific products
8. Remind them
Provide “Don’t Forget” signs at checkout, fuel pumps or on exit side of doors to remind customers about healthier foods
• Use large print to make them easy to read while queuing or walking towards the till
• Make messages part of an employee’s attire
Brumberg believes there will be many opportunities for convenience stores in the years ahead – and therefore for fresh produce growers, suppliers and buyers. Millennials see convenience as a way of living and buying – they’re connected to the ideas of fresh, quality and value. They have a positive view of convenience.
The fresh produce industry should therefore be prepared to meet these demands and those of increasing foodservice in the convenience.