HFSS and new implications for: retail.

Posted by Hanna Bentley on the 4th November, 2021
Retailers now have an opportunity to be instrumental in improving the education around healthy eating.

As a nation, we have a problem with child obesity. According to Gov UK, over a fifth of children in England are obese or overweight by the time they start primary school at age 5, rising to more than a third at age 11. It’s hardly surprising then that the government are stepping in with the new HFSS regulations. Whilst there may be disagreement with the interventions they are making, we can’t change what’s coming and as retailers and consumers have proven over recent times, we’re all pretty good at adapting to a(nother) “new normal”.

Here, at Walnut Unlimited, we’ve done a lot of work around healthy eating and the HFSS regulations in particular. From our own research, we know that the majority (around 90%) are not strongly concerned with their own sugar, fat and salt consumption but around half of consumers are actively looking for healthier food and drink products. The pandemic has made people more aware of their health, with a “survival of the fittest” mentality and therefore consumers are looking for ways ways to improve their diet and fitness. Consumers are trying to make their diets healthier by adapting small changes to make this happen such as scratch cooking, increasing consumption of fruit and veg, opting for more plant based options etc.

Retailers can influence customers to buy more considered and healthy items. Additionally, they also have an opportunity to be instrumental in improving the education around healthy eating. Everyone needs to shop for food, so they have a captive audience, which is a pretty good starting point.

How can human understanding help the retailers navigate the issues around HFSS? We think that Behavioural Science (or as we like to call it, BeSci) should play a large part in this and in particular, using our BeSci framework – “Shortcuts”, which brings together key thinking from behavioural economics, psychology and the social sciences.

Take, for example, our Feel and Flow shortcuts, which look at both engaging emotions to influence choices and making things as easy and as simple as possible to encourage behaviour. The last 18 months has been a real rollercoaster ride for us all and as humans, we crave certainty. The change in rules around product locations are going to have a big impact on customers; they’re used to seeing certain products in certain locations so the changes retailers will have to make will interrupt the ease of shopping. Signage will be hugely important here and it will need to be clear and concise to help customers find their way around the new store layouts. Virtual Reality could also play a part here by understanding the impact on the shopper journey and how best retailers could be optimising their layout.

Retailers could also benefit from providing emotional connection with their customers; offering their customers a family dining experience, a personal experience and one of unity, even if only for half an hour when sat around the table for their evening meal. Whereas once this could have been with deals on pizzas, this could now be as simple as offering healthy meal deal choices, which are fuss-free and easy to prepare e.g. stir fry’s or one pot pasta dishes. Not only does the emotional connection come in here but it also helps poorer families make their shopping trip easier and more fluid. Adding things such as recipe cards in the spirit of Gousto or Hello Fresh and chunking these options by price or time taken to cook would also be beneficial. Giving their customer limited choice yet simplifying both the shopping process and their time to prepare a meal could be a real advantage to many when things are bound to look and feel a bit different in store.

As well as this, retailers could look to the Motivate shortcut in order to encourage certain behaviour. A great example of this would be retailers harnessing their loyalty schemes, showing people how well they are doing on their statements, apps or online platforms in terms of the number of healthy products they’re buying compared to their previous visits. Translating this into loyalty points could further encourage them to maintain the healthy behaviour and motivates them to continue doing this on future shopping trips. If customers can easily navigate the healthier products, then all the better!

The list goes on. It’s quite an exciting time in the retail world and a chance for those lesser known brands to really make their mark and for the bigger brands to re-establish themselves in different times.

We’d love to speak to you and understand your specific retail challenges and in turn talk to you about how we could apply BeSci to generate more human understanding for your brand. 

Meet the Author: Hanna Bentley
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