Do not be fooled by supermarkets; they do not care about your health

In an effort to gain market share, Australia’s two biggest supermarket chains often portray themselves as places where you can shop healthily. Woolworths'” Jamie’s Garden sticker campaign” might not be just about promoting fruits and vegetables.

Collectibles such as cards and stickers have been a great success for Australian supermarkets. The previous Aussie Wildlife cards and DreamWorks Heroes cards from Woolworths were hugely popular with children across the country.

The supermarket chain’s latest fruit and vegetable campaign has been a failure. It’s not the promotion, but rather its stickers, books, and recipe cards that are clearly health-promoting.

This has caused a stir in the company because it charges fruit and vegetable farmers 40 cents per box in advertising fees for the campaign. The assumption is that the company would sell so much more fruit and vegetables that it would only be fair for farmers to contribute as well.

Farmers are asking why the campaign will benefit supermarket chains more than they do. Is the campaign really about selling more fruits and vegetables, or more about profits and market shares?

What are the health benefits of supermarkets?

Fruit and vegetables are the first things we see when entering a supermarket. In reality, however, a large amount of shelf space in supermarkets is dedicated to foods that are not part of the five major food groups. These foods are called discretionary foods.

Fruit and vegetables are the first things we see when entering a supermarket. AAP Image/Dave Hunt

The top promotional locations at checkouts and end-of-aisle displays, as well as island bins, are far more likely than fruit and vegetables to include soft drinks, chocolate, candy, and chips. They’re also highly effective.

A recent study on end-of-aisle displays in UK supermarkets shows how the position of products can have a profound effect on what people buy. The study showed that placing soft drinks at the end aisles increased sales by 52%.

Comparing Australian supermarkets to those in other developed countries has confirmed that Australian stores have more displays at the end of aisles and checkouts dedicated to chocolate, chips, sweets, and soft drinks.

This emphasis on junk foods also extends to the catalogs where most of the food and beverages advertised are “discretionary food.” While supermarkets are keen to tout their “health-food” credentials, in reality, the foods and drinks they promote contribute to Australia’s obesity crisis.

Consumables and collectibles

The relationship between food consumption and sales promotions was examined in a 2009 review.

Surprisingly, little attention has been given to the impact of sales promotions on eating habits or how they can be used to promote healthier eating.

The majority of research is based on price discounts, which have a clear and predictable effect on purchases in the short term. It is unlikely that marketing promotions without values will have an impact on food consumption in a long time, especially for perishables like fruits and vegetables.

It is difficult to believe that Woolworth’s latest collectibles campaign, which focuses on fruits and vegetables, will have a significant impact on children’s eating patterns in the long term.

Parents of school-aged kids can attest to a strategy that targets children’s passion for collectibles. AAP Image/Tony Phillips

It is still encouraging from the public health point of view to see such a campaign aimed at children promoting healthy foods – something that is very rare in food marketing for children.

The real agenda is likely to be a lot different.

This latest campaign clearly isn’t just about selling fruit and vegetables. As with most businesses, the primary goal of the supermarket chain is to maximize profits.

Such campaigns are most likely to increase market share and customer loyalty. There is no research specifically on this, but most parents with school-aged kids can attest to its effectiveness.

The sticker book that is devoted to fruit and vegetables will be largely irrelevant once the customer has entered the supermarket. The supermarkets in Australia are known for their heavy promotion of food that is not essential. The ultimate goal is to increase sales of all food, not just fruit and vegetables.

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