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Almost all supermarkets have a weekly circular, whether in print or online, and the circular is hugely successful in influencing what consumers buy. “Relatively minor and inexpensive changes in content and placement of advertised items in circulars hold great potential to influence purchasing behavior and dietary intake to more closely align with [dietary guideline] recommendations,” wrote Lisa Jahns and other authors of a recent study analyzing weekly supermarket circulars and published in Nutrition Journal.
“If changes in advertisements were partnered with interventions sensitive to the needs of retail stakeholders, the goal to increase the proportion of Americans meeting national dietary guidance, thereby decreasing the risk of chronic disease, could be paralled by increased profits for the participating retailers,” the authors continued. “Modifying sales circulars to represent healthier food groups may preserve retail profits (considering these groups’ higher profit margin) while promoting adherence to federal dietary guidance.”
The study was conducted from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2009 and monitored 52 weeks of circulars from a supermarket chain with eight locations in a city of about 69,000 predominately white residents in the Midwest. A total of 9,209 foods were advertised and were categorized by major food groups (vegetables, fruits, grains, protein and dairy) as well as subgroups of MyPlate, the consumer icon of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). Protein was the most advertised group at 25 percent, followed by grain at 18 percent, then dairy (10 percent), vegetables (8 percent) and fruits (7 percent). Meat and poultry were the most marketed items in the protein category and cheese was the most advertised in the dairy group. Empty calories (16 percent), other (14 percent), water (1 percent), and oils (1 percent) round out the advertised items.
The food groups’ advertising frequency did not follow current DGA recommendations. For example, fruits and vegetables make up 50 percent of the recommended food intake, and they made up only 15 percent of the advertised food items.
Consumers indicated that stores’ sales circulars were a main factor in their food purchasing decisions. More than 70 percent of U.S. adults read newspaper circulars with half of shoppers reporting they use technology while grocery shopping and nearly a quarter check prices at multiple stores before shopping. Americans spent an average of $400 per month on food in 2012 and 88 percent indicate that price was very or somewhat important when buying food.
“Given that American food purchases and dietary intake fall short of the DGA recommendations, and that supermarkets sales circulars are widely used by consumers to guide their purchases, circulars have the potential to have a positive influence on an individual’s diet quality,” the authors wrote.