Trial puts healthy supermarkets to the test

Seven independent IGA supermarkets in Bendigo and Geelong in Victoria are taking part in a campaign to promote better food choices as part of the ‘Eat Well @ IGA’ project – a partnership between Deakin University, the City of Greater Bendigo, VicHealth and IGA.

Lead researcher Dr Adrian Cameron, from Deakin’s Global Obesity Centre in the School of Health and Social Development, says the participating supermarkets will be closely monitored until March next year, with the effects of the program measured by comparing sales in intervention stores to those at seven other control sites.

“Each intervention store will be decked out with a range of health-promoting material, including shelf tags that use the Health Star Rating system to highlight the healthiest items (those rated 4.5 or 5 stars),” Dr Cameron said.

“These stores will also feature custom signage in trolleys and baskets, floor decals, healthy end-of-aisle displays, flyers, a range of posters and banners, and health-promotion training for staff.”

This is the first time a comprehensive controlled trial will be carried out in Australian supermarkets, testing new anti-obesity measures such as the Government’s Health Star Rating System, after some individual pilots were completed in Bendigo last year.

“We tested some of these interventions separately last year, without any promotion, and found they were effective in guiding customers toward healthy choices,” Dr Cameron said.

“For instance, our shelf-tag intervention increased purchases of the promoted products by 12 per cent.

“We want to see if by running this kind of comprehensive trial, which includes a large range of interventions at once, supported by promotion and training, we can make a big difference to how much healthy food is purchased over a sustained period.”

Dr Cameron says everything being introduced as part of the project is low cost, scalable and feasible for the retailer, “so if we get some positive results we hope it will encourage IGA to continue, and even expand, the program.”

Supermarkets involved in the trial include Champions SUPA IGA Long Gully, Champions Supa IGA Kangaroo Flat, Fairleys Eaglehawk SUPA IGA, Strath Village SUPA IGA, Strathfieldsaye SUPA IGA, Champions SUPA IGA Grovedale East, and Champions IGA Grovedale Central.

The trial was launched last month, thanks to a $550,000 grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council.