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Point-of-purchase messages improve consumers’ food choices

The Issue

Most people want to make healthy food choices but they find it difficult to cut through the confusion at the grocery store. Shoppers can be overwhelmed by several factors when choosing what to put in their cart: cost, family preferences, culture, cooking skills and nutritional value. Participants in the food stamp program are faced with even greater challenges. The goal of the Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program is to improve the nutrition-related skills of food stamp participants, specifically those related to selecting, purchasing and preparing a low-cost, healthful diet for themselves and their families. Examining new approaches to reaching low-income consumers at the place where they select and purchase their food is important.

What Has ANR Done?

A team of University of California and California State University researchers and educators collaborated with the California Department of Health Services and businesses from the grocery industry to test the feasibility, cost and effectiveness of creating a targeted nutrition education campaign at the supermarket checkout stand. This campaign focused on increasing whole grain bread consumption and was integrated with the point-of-purchase coupon distribution marketing system. By adapting this method to include nutrition information, we were able to reach thousands of people with minimal effort, at the exact time they selected and purchased their food. These checkout messages were computer generated slips of paper that took into account food purchased during the immediate shopping excursion. This technology allowed for dissemination to only those shoppers who paid with a food stamp electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card and had a targeted purchase.

The Payoff

Checkout stand messages increased whole wheat bread purchases

A total of 9,850 messages were distributed during a one-month period to food stamp participants shopping at Raley’s, BelAir and Nob Hill supermarkets. Even without offering a cash incentive, the campaign was able to increase whole wheat bread purchases among 3.6 percent of those EBT users who had previously purchased refined wheat “white” bread. This project demonstrated a new method to strengthen the direct delivery component of the Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program. Our research shows that consumer behavior can be positively influenced by providing “real-time feedback” to shoppers about their dietary choices, without the inclusion of a coupon or monetary incentive.

Clientele Testimonial

“Grocery stores are a classroom for nutrition education and where nutritious behavior change can be encouraged.” - Earline Griffith, M.A., R.D., Raley’s Nutrition Specialist


Supporting Unit:

Yolo County, Calaveras/Amador County, San Joaquin County, Nutrition
Marcel Horowitz, mhorowitz@ucdavis.edu, (530) 666-8722
Dorothy Smith, dorsmith@ucdavis.edu, (209) 223-6834
Anna Martin, acmartin@ucdavis.edu, (209)468-9497