Supermarkets should focus on education not reformulation

Supermarket shopping trolleys.jpg

According to a report released this week by the Global Obesity Centre at Deakin University, supermarkets need to do more to promote healthy eating.

No doubt this is the case.

The long term consequences of rising levels of overweight and obesity, nutrient poor diets and associated lifestyle related health problems mean all those working in the business of food have a role to play.

However with limited resources, it's critical that attention is directed to areas where businesses, like supermarkets, can leverage their greatest strengths and therefore make the greatest difference.

As Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker in the story of Spiderman 'with great power comes great responsibility'. Australia's supermarkets certainly have great power and therefore great responsibility around how they influence food purchasing decisions. They have a significant opportunity to play an active role in this area and, as the report acknowledges, are starting to make some moves.

The Deakin report provides some useful recommendations for supermarkets to consider, including influencing the placement of products within the shopping environment, and elevating the importance of nutrition and health as part of the company's overall strategy.

However, it overlooks opportunities that exist to leverage the real strengths of supermarkets and that is, their ability to educate.

Supermarkets are masters at understanding consumer shopping behaviour. They know how to influence decision making and sway people's purchasing habits. They also have access to an environment that provides the space and opportunity to interact one on one with their customers.

Rather than prioritising nutrition labeling and product reformulations (which are OK but not really enough and maybe not even effective), the greatest opportunity for supermarkets is in education.

Supermarkets are the ideal environment for educating people on how to select healthier foods, how to create quick and easy meals and how to plan meals for the week ahead. They have the opportunity to influence purchasing decisions right there at point of sale through effective educational strategies.

By elevating the role of food experts within their stores, including dietitians and chefs, and developing and implementing their own food philosophy, supermarkets have the opportunity to inspire and influence.

People need help to choose well and wisely, they need encouragement to cook, and they need inspiration to create a vision for themselves that makes everyday healthy eating possible and achievable.

Supermarkets can do this - they just need to focus where it matters most.