Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Policy Point Wednesday - Product Placement

Grocers have long been aware that product placement in the store drives sales:   grocers go so far as to charge "slotting fees" for prime placement on shelving.  Invariably, the companies most able and willing to take advantage of preferred placement are often those who offer highly-processed fringe foods.

Recently, growing concern about public health has caused some food purveyors to make changes in their product placement - Julie Deardorff reported in the Chicago Tribune that the Hy-Vee chain of grocery stores has created "Blue Zones," or checkout lanes offering single-serve healthy foods like string cheese and unsalted sunflower seeds.  Other grocers - who have a vested interest in selling their produce before it goes bad - have attempted to engage the public with special lighting and prominent placement near the front door.  All of these methods are proven to increase sales in healthy foods as well as unhealthy ones.

I was fortunate to discover a local entry in the healthier-foods market:  in Elmhurst, IL, I happened upon a Power Mart gas station/quick service store.  I needed a quick snack, and was happily shocked to find single-serve packages of freshly cut vegetables right at the front of the store.  Immediately next to the cash register were mixed nuts, more cut vegetables, apples and oranges, and lowfat cheese sticks.  After commenting on the pleasant surprise to the cashier, I was told that this store was a pilot featuring a wide variety of foods (there is also a small liquor store, hotdog stand, and a "bakery" featuring packaged sliced pound cake and honey buns - so there are plenty of unhealthy options) but the healthy food options were more prominently placed, both front and center and nearer to the cash register.  He said that they were serving as many as 20 kids a day after school, many of whom choose wisely.

Clearly, even quickserve stores are interested in attracting a wider audience, and are responsive to pressures from the market.  In Philadelphia (home of the Healthy Corner Stores initiative,) parents have engaged the local neighborhood watch to help steer kids towards better afterschool choices.  Direct intervention on the retail level is an effective strategy to make healthier foods more accessible.


Cassie said...

This is wonderful news! I travel quite a bit and am always upset with the horrible selection of food available at convenience stores - granola bars with HFCS, heavily salted nuts, suspicious looking bananas.

Michele Hays said...

Thanks, Cassie!

Grant said...

Great stuff!

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