Testing availability, positioning, promotions, and signage of healthier food options and purchasing behaviour within major UK supermarkets: Evaluation of 6 nonrandomised controlled intervention studies
Piernas C., Harmer G., Jebb SA.
Background Governments are increasingly looking for policies to change supermarket environments to support healthier food purchasing. We evaluated 6 interventions within major United Kingdom grocery stores, including availability, positioning, promotions, and signage strategies to encourage selection of healthier products. Methods and findings Nonrandomised controlled study designs were used, except for one intervention that was rolled out nationwide using a pre/post within-store design. Store-level weekly sales (units, weight (g), and value (£)) of products targeted in the interventions were used in primary analyses using multivariable hierarchical models and interrupted time series (ITS) analyses. Stocking low fat chips next to regular chips was associated with decreases in sales of regular chips (units) in intervention versus control stores (−23% versus −4%; P = 0.001) with a significant level change in ITS models (P = 0.001). Increasing availability of lower energy packs of biscuits was associated with increased sales but reduced sales of regular biscuits in intervention versus control stores (lower energy biscuits +18% versus −2%; P = 0.245; regular biscuits −4% versus +7%; P = 0.386), although not significantly, though there was a significant level change in ITS models (P = 0.004 for regular biscuits). There was no evidence that a positioning intervention, placing higher fibre breakfast cereals at eye level was associated with increased sales of healthier cereal or reduced sales of regular cereal. A price promotion on seasonal fruits and vegetables showed no evidence of any greater increases in sales of items on promotion in intervention versus control stores (+10% versus +8%; P = 0.101) but a significant level change in ITS models (P < 0.001). A nationwide promotion using Disney characters was associated with increased sales of nonsugar baked beans (+54%) and selected fruits (+305%), with a significant level change in ITS models (P < 0.001 for both). Shelf labels to highlight lower sugar beverages showed no evidence of changes in purchasing of lower or higher sugar drinks. These were all retailer-led interventions that present limitations regarding the lack of randomisation, residual confounding from unmeasured variables, absolute differences in trends and sales between intervention versus control stores, and no independent measures of intervention fidelity. Conclusions Increasing availability and promotions of healthier alternatives in grocery stores may be promising interventions to encourage purchasing of healthier products instead of less healthy ones. There was no evidence that altering positioning within an aisle or adding shelf edge labelling is associated with changes in purchasing behaviours. Trial registration https://osf.io/br96f/.