The retail food environment represents the interface between the population and the food system. The unhealthy food environments in which we live are now recognised as a key driver of population weight gain over the last three decades. They are not simply a response to consumer demand, but are part of a complex and dynamic process in which retailers also influence consumers through the marketing, availability, price and labelling of food. It is clear that major changes to the retail food environment are needed if they are to encourage the consumption of healthy foods.

In this stream of work, we focus on monitoring the retail food environment as well as using the “4 Ps of marketing” (product, price, place and promotion) to actively nudge consumers toward healthier choices. We work with both supermarkets and smaller food retailers and focus on:

  • investigating the drivers of healthy retail innovation
  • monitoring the healthiness of retail food environments
  • implementing and evaluating interventions in retail settings to encourage healthy eating
  • creating an evidence base that informs policy and practice of the various stakeholders involved

Supermarkets

Supermarkets are highly accessible (widespread, convenient and usually open late) and the source of most food purchases (including unhealthy food). Australian stores have been shown to be a particularly unhealthy food environment.

Some of our current projects in this area include:

  • A series of controlled trials with VicHealth, local government and retail partners to test a range of in-store marketing techniques designed to encourage healthier purchasing.
  • Monitoring of the supermarket environment (and the retail policies that it results from) as part of the INFORMAS (International Network for Food and Obesity/non-communicable diseases Research, Monitoring and Action support) network.

Other retail settings

Smaller retail stores such as cafeterias, fast food outlets and convenience stores are highly visible and present in community, occupational and leisure settings.

Some of our research encouraging healthier environments in these stores includes:

  • Healthy school canteens: In this collaboration between Monash and Deakin Universities we are developing national audit tools to evaluate the healthiness of Australia’s school canteens.
  • Building the business case for healthy food retail in health promoting community settings. We are working with a number of councils, sports and recreation organisations and health services, for whom healthy food provision is consistent with their overall mission to enable good health and wellbeing, to evaluate a variety of strategies to improve the healthiness of the food purchased and consumed in these settings. To promote the spread of healthy food retail, organisations need to know what can be done, how it can be done and what the likely effects are, both in terms of health and the impact on things important to the retailer like overall sales and customer satisfaction. We are currently working with Alfred Health; YMCA Victoria and the Cities of Melbourne, Wyndham and Melton to evaluate the health and business impact of the implementation of a range of novel strategies to decrease sales of unhealthy food and drink and increase sales of healthy food and drink.