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Are Shoppers Making Better Choices at the Market? A New Report Sheds Some Light


A new report released by the Hudson Institute on Tuesday found that lower-calorie foods and beverages aren’t just good for the nation’s health but also good for business.

According to the study, supermarket sales of lower-calorie foods and beverages are growing faster than higher-calorie items. However, while supermarkets are gaining a larger portion of their food and beverage sales growth – 59 percent – from lower-calorie products, they are still failing to take full advantage of consumers’ shifting food preferences to lower-calorie products.

Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, this study is the first of its kind to focus specifically on the business impact of lower-calorie item sales on supermarket chains. For the report, Hank Cardello, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute and Director of their Obesity Solutions Initiative, and his team analyzed Nielsen Scantrack data from 2009 to 2013 for 202 food and beverage categories for the three largest supermarket retailers in the United States. They looked at categories that included items such as fruits, vegetables and milk as well as cereal, pasta, packaged meals and snacks, examining the average number of items on a store shelf and the total sales in dollars for each category.

While they found that lower-calorie product sales clearly outpace the sales of higher-calorie items, the same did not hold true for foods and beverages that contribute the most calories to children’s diets. The total sales of lower-calorie versions of these food and beverages, such as des¬serts, sugary drinks, snacks and pizza, unfortunately fell short of higher-calorie options and grew at a slower rate. Specifically, the researchers found that the higher-calorie options made up more than 70 percent of sales and grew more than 12 percent, while the lower-calorie versions of these products grew just 5 percent.

The researchers also looked at store sales in food deserts – which can be identified as low-income areas where there is limited or no access to healthy, affordable food – and found a smaller yet still noticeable shift toward lower-calorie foods and beverages. While the lower-calorie options made up a smaller share of sales in food deserts than they did in stores not in food deserts, lower-calorie sales growth still exceeded the sales growth of higher-calorie items. This further reinforces the idea that con¬sumers, regardless of where they are located, are increasingly moving toward healthier alternatives.

It is not only clear that the public’s food preferences are quickly shifting away from higher-calorie items but that supermarkets can benefit significantly by making even more lower-calorie options available and finding better ways to promote them to their shoppers. By simply incorporating strategic merchandising and promotional practices such as giving healthier options more prominent shelf placement, highlighting them on in-store ads and displays and strategically placing them in check-out lanes, stores can not only grow their sales of lower-calorie items but also provide healthier choices for children and families.

Click here to read the full report from the Hudson Institute, titled "How Supermarkets Are Shaping up and Growing Their Lower-Calorie Products."