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Can loyalty programmes create healthier shoppers?

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27 Aug 2020

As grocers continue their attempts to create healthy eating habits, loyalty programmes can be a vital tool in the fight against obesity.

Matthew Betes, Corporate Marketing Director

As people have become more aware of nutrition and health, so have grocery practices been put under the microscope when it comes to promoting unhealthy foods. Childhood obesity is of particular concern – with the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimating that more than 340 million children and adolescents are obese around the world. The leading cause of this is overeating and the consumption of unhealthy drinks and snacks. In Spain, for instance, 81% of children consume a soft drink at least once a week. In the UK, where one-in-three children leave primary school overweight, the government has banned junk food advertising from being shown before 9pm.

Yet many people see the responsibility to reduce these figures lying with grocery stores. The positioning of sugary treats around a grocery store has been a particular talking point for retailers and commentators for well over a decade.

Many supermarkets have responded to criticism and consumer demand by slowly nudging away from traditional impulse buy tactics, such as having unhealthy snacks located by the tills. Indeed, recent years have seen the widespread practice of offering free fruit for young customers – for instance, Stop and Shop in the USA and Tesco in the UK. These fruit stands are placed in high footfall areas across a store, helping placate hungry children with healthier options rather than sweets. In this way, children’s familiarity with healthy options as a treat is increased – which can change their consumption behaviour in the long term.

These practices are certainly encouraging. But what more can the grocery retail industry do to promote healthy habits amongst shoppers?

Creating a healthier ecosystem

It’s true that grocers have a leading part to play in encouraging healthier choices. And it’s also true there is an opportunity for many to do better when it comes to the placement of less healthy items. Yet while the supermarkets often have to deal with the bulk of pressure, it shouldn’t just be on them. Instead, there should be encouragement across the entire retail ecosystem to adopt new strategies that can collectively change behaviours.

Positioning healthier foods at eye level is one solution. Manufacturers can help retailers by introducing more vibrant and engaging packaging on options that are better for our health. Retailers can introduce healthy eating loyalty programmes to reward shoppers making a change to their consumption habits—something tcc has helped many grocers do. Governments can provide financial incentives, reducing rates for grocers that actively encourage healthy habits. A cohesive, cross-sector response would be much more effective in inspiring better habits than a misguided attempt to punish grocers.

The role of loyalty

When it comes to supermarkets themselves, there is an effective tool to use that can affect behavioural change in memorable ways that shoppers enjoy: loyalty programmes. There is a real opportunity for retailers to make loyalty part of their wider strategy. Because good loyalty should be a key part of a business – as a central tenet it can have the deepest impact. Indeed, some of the best examples of retailers tackling obesity come from those who utilise loyalty activity.

Biedronka, Poland’s leading hypermarket chain, has had success in encouraging children to eat more fruit and vegetables through the Goodness Gang – a campaign created by tcc that centres on a colourful cast of plush fruit and vegetable toys. Attaching this sense of fun and joy to healthy food can bring it to life in the minds of children, increasing their familiarity with healthy ingredients and their willingness to try new things. Using the characters across a mix of in store activations and mobile apps means that the healthy eating message is being communicated both in the store and at home – which is key for any retailer wanting to create long term behavioural change.

With exercise also being key to tackling obesity, REWE in Germany is helping increase funding for local sports centres through its own loyalty campaign developed in partnership with tcc. The programme allows shoppers and sports clubs to collect and redeem new equipment that helps local communities stay active and healthy.

Using loyalty programmes in these ways, to reward shoppers for healthy behaviour, is an important tactic for grocers to tackle obesity. These schemes incentivise good choices, without appearing nannying in a way that turns shoppers off. Recipe cards, healthy meal kits and cookery lessons are all suitable rewards that help shoppers make healthier choices while bringing surprise and delight to their day. A supermarket that brings an hour of joy through a healthy family cooking lesson will stick longer in the mind than one that relies on low price alone. In this way, retailers can attach feelings of happiness to healthy eating and create better habits amongst their shoppers.

Connecting with customers

But loyalty programmes shouldn’t be a one off. Retailers should recognise that loyalty, when done well, is a much bigger thing. It should be integrated with the aims of a business, especially in regard to the increasing focus on purpose-led retailing – a vital way to establish emotional connections with customers that go beyond the transactional. In today’s world, grocery price wars may seem like an impending inevitability. But grocers who struggle to compete on low prices are using initiatives that create meaningful connections – on matters shoppers really care about – in order to maintain or grow their market share.

Encouraging healthy eating is just one of these types of initiative. Supermarkets are at the heart of their communities and have an influential role in enabling customers to make better, more informed choices.

It’s encouraging that supermarkets are actively harnessing many of the lifestyle trends we’ve seen develop over Covid-19 (more family eating, increased home exercise, etc.), as it shows they are offering initiatives that meet the fast changing wants and needs of their customer base – whether that be campaigns related to sustainability, community engagement or diversity and representation. The smart supermarket will know how to use the right mix of causes its shoppers value to do lasting good in a way that resonates.

The emphasis on businesses playing a vital role in addressing some of our biggest challenges will only grow. From a grocery standpoint, this includes responsibility across supply chain, employee wellbeing, food waste, sustainability and environmental commitments, as well as societal issues such as combating obesity.   

Interested in creating loyalty programmes that change shoppers’ behaviours and perceptions? Get in touch with your local tcc office today.

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