Scientists Are Redesigning Grocery Stores to Help You Eat Healthier

published Jan 25, 2017
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(Image credit: Lukas Budimaier)

What will it take for people to consume more vegetables? Scientists are exploring this exact point in a very specific location: the aisles of grocery stores. Researchers at the University of Oxford are working with British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s to see if redesigning the store can nudge consumers to purchase more fruits and vegetables.

The Changes Happening in the Grocery Aisle

One proposal is to place vegetarian alternatives to meat products on the same shelves. Online shoppers will also receive suggestions featuring vegetarian alternatives to recent purchases. Another idea being tested is to provide rewards — vouchers and loyalty points — to shoppers who opt for vegetarian products. The team will also see the effect of handing out free recipes and leaflets that break down how shoppers can consume less meat.

“Nutritionists, political economists, and epidemiologists at Oxford will study how animal foods affect health and the environment and they will then work with Sainsbury’s to present those findings in ways people can understand,” Sarah Molton, head of the project, tells The Guardian.

25 Days of Glorious Vegetables from The Vegetable Butcher (Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Why This Research Is Important

The findings of this experiment will be helpful from a public health perspective — if consumers will opt for vegetarian alternatives when they’re placed next to meat products, then perhaps they’ll opt for healthier alternatives to junk food and high-sugar items as well. “This research is necessary because we have so little evidence of what works and this will give us much more insight into what practical and effective solutions may look like,” Molton tells Munchies.

But more directly, encouraging shoppers to eat more vegetarian food has more direct benefits: A 2016 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that decreasing meat consumption can “reduce global mortality by 6 to 10 percent and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 to 70 percent.”

“Imbalanced diets, such as diets low in fruits and vegetables and high in red and processed meat, are responsible for the greatest health burden globally and in most regions,” says Marco Springmann, lead author of the study. “At the same time, the food system is responsible [currently] for more than a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore a major driver of climate change.”

Those worried about Jedi mind tricks at the grocery store need not worry, as the current experiment is limited to Sainsbury’s shoppers and will take five years to complete.