Promote healthier products to meet dietary guidelines, says new analysis: It could decrease chronic disease risk and boost retailer profits

By Stephen Daniells contact

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“[A] growing body of literature suggests that price reductions or provision of coupons and food vouchers can improve both purchases and dietary intake of healthy food,” wrote the researchers
“[A] growing body of literature suggests that price reductions or provision of coupons and food vouchers can improve both purchases and dietary intake of healthy food,” wrote the researchers

Related tags: Nutrition

Small and inexpensive changes to the content of supermarket circulars have ‘great potential’ to boost healthy eating and get consumers closer to dietary guidelines, but only if the retailers are on-board, says a new analysis.

Over 70% of US adults reading newspaper circulars and 50% of shoppers using technology when grocery shopping, according to new analysis published in the Nutrition Journal.

“In fact, supermarket sales circulars are so effective in stimulating demand that it is difficult to find a supermarket that does not use them,”​ wrote the authors from the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, New Mexico State University, Paso del Norte Institute for Healthy Living (Texas), and the University of Bristol (UK).


With US consumers reported to meet the dietary guidelines less than 2% of the time (seven days out of 365), supermarket circulars could provide a way to help improve the health of the nation, suggests the new analysis.

“Health interventions via supermarket advertising are largely underexplored to date,”​ explained the authors, led by Dr Lisa Jahns from the USDA ARS.

Lisa Jahns, PhD, RD

“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 paralleled by increased profits for the participating retailers.”

In order to understand the impact of circulars, Dr Jahns and her co-authors analyzed the content from 52 weekly supermarket newspaper sales inserts in 2009 from a local Midwestern grocery chain.

A year-long analysis of advertisements for 9,209 foods in supermarket newspaper sales inserts indicated that protein foods were the most represented (25% of total items), followed by grain products (18% of total items) and dairy (10%).

Vegetables and fruit accounted for only 15%, compared with the dietary guidelines, which have 50% of the recommended foods as fruits and vegetables. Dark green and red & orange vegetables accounted for less than 3% of the items.


“[A] growing body of literature suggests that price reductions or provision of coupons and food vouchers can improve both purchases and dietary intake of healthy food,” ​they wrote.

“Online coupons are becoming popular with retailers; however, current research indicates that online coupons are overwhelmingly for processed snack foods, not for healthier foods.”

Despite some efforts to promote the consumption of fruits and vegetables, “none have partnered with stores to target weekly circulars as a method of promoting price discounts of healthy, nutrient dense, foods”,​ wrote the authors.

“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 recommendations.”

Dr Jahns told FoodNavigator-USa that no conversations have happened yet with the supermarket chain. That is “still in the works,”​ she said, “but I look forward to speaking with them about this.”

“I believe that much like restaurants, it is important that supermarkets be included,” ​she added. “People still derive the majority of their daily energy from food from home, and increased promotion of vegetables and fruits holds great promise for increasing purchases. Of course, ensuring that people eat them once they get them home is another thing, but access is the first step in promoting consumption.”

From circulars to mobile… the same principles

The rise of e-commerce may make it easier for supermarkets to connect with consumers, but e-commerce remains a lag area compared to other sectors. According to a recent study from Brick Meets Click, e-commerce currently represents just 3.3% of grocery, though that market share is expected to jump to between 6.7% and 16.9% over the next decade.

Marketing via print circulars, seen by some as a thing of the past, is the same as marketing in the mobile era, according to Chris Cornyn, founder of food and beverage marketing agency DINE​.

Chris Cornyn, DINE

Speaking with FoodNavigator-USA earlier this year​, Cornyn said: “With the mobile era and buying groceries online, traditional marketing doesn’t work anymore. In the past we used to get the supermarket circulars in the newspaper, with these teeny tiny images of the products. It’s difficult to recognize the products. It’s the same paradigm with mobile. Marketers must ask how they made their product stand out on a circular. It needs to be iconic in shape, form, and color.

“We need to think back to the old ways of communicating. It’s the same skill set, but the delivery is modern.”

Source: Nutrition Journal
2014, 13​:95
“Foods advertised in US weekly supermarket sales circulars over one year: a content analysis”
Authors: L. Jahns, C.R. Payne, L.D. Whigham, L.K. Johnson, A.J. Scheett, B.S. Hoverson, S. Kranz

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