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Guiding Principles for the Location of Foods In a Supermarket


Over the years, supermarkets have been seen to employ various strategies, many of which are meant to ensure that they benefit from increased sales and hence maximize on their profits. Consequently, supermarkets have commissioned numerous studies on consumer behavior. The research findings of these studies have been instrumental in helping them to convert their floor spaces into an environment that motivates customers to increase their purchase (Parnes 1948; Liu, Melara & Arangarasan 2007). For example, supermarkets have been informed by these research findings in the development of their layout plan and the location of food on the shelves. In recent years, we have witnessed a dramatic increase in such diet-related disease as diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease as well. This has prompted health care providers and government to implement intervention programs meant to reverse this trend. Consumers have also become increasingly health conscious on the choice of food that they buy. In the 21st century, supermarkets need to embrace guiding principles that will result in the maximization of health of the customers, as opposed to just an increase in the profits by the supermarkets.

The research paper is an endeavor to examine the 21st century guiding principles for the location of foods in a supermarket; that of maximizing health. In addition, the paper shall also examine the influence of supermarkets’ layout on customer buying behavior. The growth of supermarkets in such developing countries as the Latin America, South-East Asia, China and South Africa, shall also be explored. Further, the paper shall endeavor to explore the diffusion patterns of supermarkets in the aforementioned developing regions. An analysis of the 21st century guiding principles for the location of foods in a supermarket shall also be examined. Finally, an analysis of the proposed policy approach shall be carried out, along with an examination of the associated strengths and weaknesses.


The methodology for this particular study involved the use of data from secondary sources. In this case, the writer deemed it appropriate to review the literature of other authors on the 21st century guiding principles of supermarkets regarding their layout and display of food. Use was made of book, peer reviewed journals and articles. The writer then reviewed the literature from these sources that was related to the topic in question.

Prevalence of diet related diseases

Estimates indicate that chronic diseases in Australia accounts for nearly 80% of the entire burden of disease in the country, and injury as well. In addition, it is important to note that there is a rapid rise in the levels of chronic disease in Africa largely as a result of an ageing population and the obesity epidemic (National Health Priority Action Council 2006). There is a correlation between on the one hand, diet and on the other hand, an increase in the risk of development of such chronic diseases as different forms of cancer and Type 2 diabetes (WHO 2003). Expectations are that by 2023, Type 2 diabetes shall have turned into the leading cause of Australia’s burden of disease (Queensland Health 2006). On the other hand, nearly 16% of Australia’s entire burden of disease is attributed to poor nutrition (Queensland Health 2006). In addition, over 56 % of all forms of deaths reported in Australia have been attributed to poor nutrition. From a financial point of view, over $ 5 billion is spent every year to cater for those implicated in diet-related illnesses.

There is also a high correlation between obesity and poor nutrition. Obesity has also been recognized as leading risk factors for the development of various chronic diseases. In addition, the prevalence of child obesity was seen to have increased three-fold between 1985 and 1995. By 2003, there were re over 60% obese or overweight adults in Australia (Cameron et al 2003). Between 30 and 40% of the various forms of cancers reported in Australia are attributed to dietary factors (WHO 2003). On the other hand, the consumption of a diet low in vegetables and fruits alone has been estimated to result in 12 % of all cases of cancer disabilities and other dietary-related deaths. In Australia, there is an unequal distribution in the chronic disease related to diet among the various segments of the population. For example, increased disability levels, increased poor nutrition levels and high rates of mortality and morbidity have been reported among the Torres Strait Islander and the Aboriginal people (Queensland health 2005).

Prevalence of poor eating habits

In a survey that was carried out by The National health Survey in the country in 2001, only about 30% of the adults in Australia follow the approved guidelines on the consumption of fruits and vegetables (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2002). On the other hand, the survey revealed that intakes of salt and saturated fat were above the maximum recommended levels. Unhealthy eating habits among the Australians have been on an increase for the last three decades. For instance, energy intake among children was seen to increase dramatically by 12 % among girls and 15% among the boys, between 1985 and 1995 (Department of Health and Ageing 1998). This was mainly attributed to increase in the rate of consumption of such foods as pies, soft drinks, pizza, fruit drinks, biscuits, and confectionery.

21st century guiding principles for the location of foods in a supermarket

In the past years, supermarkets have been seen to emphasize more on the store layout to encourage impulse buying among the customers (Abell 2000; Cradden 2009). The goal has therefore been that of increasing their sales volumes (Dawson, Bloch, & Ridgway 1990; Hausman 2000; Leibtag 2006; Nicholson, Clarke & Blakemore 2002) with little regard on the health of the consumers. For example, in most supermarkets, snacks, candies, and sweets, along with all sorts of junk food are often strategically positioned on the supermarket shelves where customers can locate them with relative ease (Peak & Peak 1977; Shaffer 2002; Terrazas 2006; Wakefield & Baker 1998). Others are located right next to the payout counter, further tempting the customers to purchase them even when they have no intention of doing so (Zhou & Wong 2004), and further adding onto the impulse purchase behavior of the consumers (Marx & Erasmus 2006). This prompts us to pose the question; can supermarket play a role in the promotions of healthy eating habits of the consumers?

There is the need for supermarkets to embrace such guiding principles as would allow them to ensure a display of healthy foods on the supermarkets’ shelves in a bid to maximize the health of the consumers, as opposed to maximizing the profits of the supermarkets. Moreover, such food also needs to be made available even to the low-income members of the population because they are the most vulnerable group when it comes to the issue of poor eating habits (O’Connor & Abell1992).

In the 21st century, the consumers are increasingly becoming aware of the need to embrace healthy eating habits. When the population has better access to fresh food, this acts as an important strategy in helping to improve the general health of the population, and in preventing the occurrence of obesity. In addition, attracting of more markets and stores that sell fresh food to the underserved and low income areas is also crucial in ensuring that everyone is able to purchase the basic necessities of good nutrition for their families. When there is better access to healthy and affordable foods this result in economic revitalization, livable neighborhoods and better health for the general population (Morland, Wing & Roux 2002). Accordingly, the guiding principles for the supermarkets in the 21st century should be geared towards ensuring that they present their products in a way that will make the customers have easy access to healthy foods. Some of the guiding principles include:

  1. Organizing campaigns and local advocacy to ensure that fresh and healthy foods are accessible to the communities, and more so those who appear neglected
  2. Facilitation of transport arrangements to ensure that fresh foods get to the shelves of the supermarket
  3. Increase in the number of supermarkets to ensure enhance sales avenue for access to fresh food to the customers

Influence of supermarket layouts on customer buying behavior

Most of us go to purchase our food products at the supermarkets completely naïve of the fact that the layouts of these stores have been deliberately designed so as influence our purchasing behavior (Nicosia 1966; Tendai & Crispen 2009). In this case, many of these stores end up committing millions of dollars in research with a view to studying the psychology of shoppers (Guiltinan & Monroe 1980; King, Leibtag & Behl 2004). On the basis of the research findings of the commissioned studies, the supermarkets then ends up designing their shelves and arranging their products in such a manner as will result in maximum realization of profits (Food Marketing Institute 1998). If at all one wish to succeed in the business world, there is need to fully understand the needs of one’s customers, their purchasing habits, and personalities (Guari & Gronhaung 2005). Consequently, those businesses that are able to clearly forecast the buying behaviors of their customers are also able to offer the goods that are most sought after by the customers (Levy 1998; Levy 2004).

It is important to become aware of the secrets of supermarket layout. To start with, we need to realize that unlike the traditional shops in which the products would often be placed behind the counters, the supermarkets instead opt to place goods on open shelves. Since there is a higher temptation for customers to steal goods from the shops, the idea of installing CCTV (closed circuit television) cameras was embraced by supermarkets at an early age, so that they could watch the customers as they went about their shopping activities. Besides discouraging the temptation by customers to steal from the supermarkets, the CCTV cameras also acted as a tool to enable the supermarkets further study the fascinating purchasing behavior of the customers (Reardon & Berdeque 2002). Consequently, these observations have also further influenced the layout and design of the supermarkets (Seth & Randall 2001).

A consumer’s experience at a supermarket begins right after they have made their entry into the store (Rook & Robert 1995; Reardon et al 2003). The first section that one enters inside a supermarket is referred to as the ‘decompression zone’. Usually, this area tends to be somewhat warmer than the other parts of the supermarket, or the outside of the supermarket for that matter. As a result, the customer ends up feeling unstressed and comfortable (Michon, Chebat &Turley 2005). The entrance section of the supermarket is usually referred to as the dead zone. This is because customers are yet to commence with their various shopping activities.

Once customers have entered a supermarket, there is the tendency to assume a normal walking pace, and it is only when they leave the decompression zone that they are observed to slow down. Nearly 75 % of the customers in a supermarket have a tendency to look right, once they have entered into a supermarket (O’Conno & Abell 1992). The area in the supermarket dedicated to the sale of magazines, and newspapers is referred to as the dwell zone, and is usually situated near the entrance. The idea is to encourage the customer to browse through these shelves and in the need, possibly end up making yet another impulse purchase prior to the commencement of the actual shopping exercise. CDs, DVDs and books may also be located at this section. However, books, films, and music meant for the adult shoppers are often located on the higher shelves on this section. Items that a favorite for the children are often located on the lower shelves so that from this point, the children may pick them up with relative ease (Bayley & Nancarrow 1998). This way, students can be bale to reach their favorite products with relative ease and ensure that they are placed in the shopping trolley.

The layout of the supermarket is not designed to ensure that the food department of such healthy foods as fruit and vegetables become the first food department, for purposes of ensuring that the shopping of the customer remains convenient (Dawson et al 1990). Placing of vegetables and fruits at the bottom of the shopping trolley below other foodstuffs or other shopping items means that they risk being crushed by the other items (Bodor 2008). However, the supermarkets have also realized that there is a very strong psychological attraction of consumers towards freshness, good health, and quality. So strong is this influence that it ends up impacting on the successive purchases of a consumer while still at this department.

A supermarket’s layout acts as a fundamental success factor. In this case, the goal of the supermarket is to ensure that they have utilized all the space available in the store in an effective manner, including merchandise display, fixtures, and non-selling areas (Lamb, Hair & McDaniel, p. 423). Furthermore, in order to ensure that customers find shopping to be more convenient and easy, an effective store layout influences the purchasing behavior and traffic patterns of the consumers in a powerful way. For instance, the unique circular layout encourages customers to pass the various departments in a store as they head for the checkout lanes. Most supermarkets also have wide isles to provide enough room for both the customers and their shopping carts In an attempt to further enhance the crisp display of a supermarket store, the presentation of most of the merchandise often occurs from light to dark, a scenario that is somewhat more appealing to the eyes of the customer. Ultimately, in a bid to further encourage last-minute impulse shopping, the supermarkets often display items of low-cost right next to the checkout register. Along with the additional merchandising strategies, the layout of a supermarket could end up generating an average of more than $ 300 in sales, for every single square foot of the store’s floor space. This figure is also the industry average for most of the supermarkets. The circular layout design as postulated by Kohl revealed that by 2005, nearly 750 stores located in some 41 states had managed to increase their sales by way of employing this particular approach by nearly 15 percent (Lamb et al 2007, p. 423).

We tfind ourselves being faced with a dilemma of purchasing seductive and attractive food products that could in fact not be wholesome and healthy for that matter, but are nonetheless attractive to the eyes (Hosler et al 2006). It is important therefore to note that for many years now, supermarkets have been using various tricks of marketing that emphasizes more on the attractiveness and richness of their products, and we end up falling victim to their marketing strategies. A number of marketing experts (for example, Jones 1999) contends that we make almost 75 % of our purchase decisions while at the supermarket. In addition, The Personal Financier (2007) notes that as consumers, we end up spending more than 30% of our pre-planned shopping budget. Accordingly, we need to recognize the basic marketing strategies that the supermarkets often employ. In this regard, we need to examine the issue of supermarket layout and how it impacts of the purchase behavior of consumers.

The layout of supermarkets has been planned carefully in such a manner as to fit the store’s profitability, more products per store space, and the sales forecast of the store (Kaufman et al 1997). More often than not, products that are most popular are often displayed at the perimeter of the store, usually located at corners of the store. As we travel the width and length of the store, we end up encountering other products that though we had no intention of purchasing, nonetheless, we are often tempted to consider purchasing them owing to the manner in which they have been strategically and attractively displayed. For example, dairy products are often located very far away from the entrance of the store. Since these products are quite popular with a majority of the consumers (Hosler et al 2006), because they are basic products, if they are located very close to the entrance of the store, this would mean that the customers would often find them with relative ease and as such, they would have no business to proceed to the other sections of the store searching for products that they have no intention of purchasing, at the moment. In the case of large volume products, these are often located at the farthest corners of the supermarket. This means that by the time customers get to them, they will have nearly filled up their shopping cart with other products.

In most cases, impulse buying takes place at the points of sale terminals. Most of the times, the products displayed here include sweets, chocolate bard, and candies. Obviously, these are not healthy foods, and the idea is to entice the consumers to make a purchase as a last resort. Naturally, human beings have a tendency to focus our eyes on the items lies directly in front of us. In organizing their shelf spaces and the general store organization, supermarkets always have the end consumer in mind. For this reason, those products that sells fast and are attractive to the eyes of the consumers are often placed on the right side of the supermarket usually at the consumer’s eye level. In contrast, cheaper products but of a similar quality will be shelved at a low eye level, and at the farthest corners of the supermarket. Most of the time, the supermarkets stock the low shelves with products that are usually used in attracting children because this is a perfect level for their eyes. In addition, supermarkets have a tendency to conveniently locate candy for example, just right across from the breakfast cereals (Kaufman et al 1998) so that when parents come or shopping with their children, the children shall see them and influence their parents into buying them.

Music has the capacity to evoke complex behavioral and affective responses (Mattila & Wirtz 2001). In addition, music could also determine the amount of time that a consumer spends in a store, as well as how much of the products they are likely to purchase. Two separate studies (in 1982, and then later in 1986), were carried out to determine the purchase behavior of the customers. The research findings of the first study involved shoppers who were observed to spend more money and time in a retail environment that had slow tempo music (Mattila & Wirtz 2001). In the other study, the retail shop played slow music and the customers were observed to take additional time in shopping in comparison with those who were in a fast-music store (Mattila & Wirtz 2001).

In addition, slow and gentle music has in many instances been played with a view to encouraging the shoppers to assume a slow walking style, and this means that they will in the end have more time to browse the various items in the supermarket. The use of loyalty cards by the supermarkets is yet another ploy intended to increase their sales, as well as helping to market their products (Morton & Blanchard 2007). At the moment, a majority of the supermarkets argue that such information assists them to gather the needed information about the customers or statistical purposes, so that they are better able to compare their sales, and also ensure that they remain better informed on the kinds of products that the customers are buying, in effect enabling them to ensure effective stock control.

While undertaking their in-store displays, the intention of the supermarkets is to help them better understand the shopping habits of their customers (Terrazas 2006). As such, supermarket can make use of strategic displays of their products in such a manner as to enable them enhance sales, and more so via unplanned purchases as undertaken by the consumers. In one of the more common strategies, supermarkets may opt to identify those products that are bought more frequently by the customers and then attractively present other complementary products right next to the most sought-after goods (Mattila & Wirtz 2001).

Location of items

Another common practice of displaying products at the supermarket is one that involves a separation of item otherwise regarded as popular. For example, milk and bread are more likely to be displayed at the extreme and opposite ends of a store and as the customer goes across to get the other products, they have to go through numerous other products and in the process, they are more likely to engage in impulsive buying (Terrazas 2006).

In-house bakeries

Most shops also tend to have bakeries in-house because as research has indicated, people tend to go hungry at the smell of bread that has been freshly baked. In the same way, there is a higher likelihood for individuals to buy additional items at a time when they are hungry, as opposed to when they are not. In an attempt to also lure customers into buying more items, supermarkets have been seen to utilize different tools that impacts on the various senses of the human beings, such as music, the atmosphere, smells, and colors. In this case, we need to realize that the deli or supermarkets’ bakery are not exactly very profitable sections. Nonetheless, with regard to shopping experiences, the two sections are by and large, quite invaluable (Maxwell & Slater 2003). The mere sight of sausages or cheese, or even the fresh smell of bread functions as excellent tools for marketing for such stores.

Analysis of the 21st century guiding principles

Organizing campaigns and local advocacy results in the development of programs and policies aimed at ensuring that hitherto neglected communities have access to healthy foods as offered by retailers (Kaufman et al 1997). Such initiatives are a clear indication that it is quite possible to solve the problem of inequitable access to food, not to mention the fact that the various members of the community may benefit from the chance of making easy food choices when they are able to access it at the local farmers’ markets, the supermarkets, and the retail stores (Kaufman et al 1997). In addition, when communities have better access to food, they are better able to also solve other challenges facing them, besides those related to health. It tends to be beneficial to the regional farm systems, the economy, investors, the local government, community developers, and help to improve employment opportunities.

Inequalities in the transportation of fresh foods to the supermarkets exacerbate the challenges of access to food. In this case, the members of the community who live far away from the supermarkets are almost always also likely to experience difficulties in finding convenient means of travelling to the nearest retail store, as they are more likely to own a car (Kaufman et al 1997). When shopping for groceries, such members of the community either have to rely on the public means of transport, paying for a taxi, or hitching rides with relatives or friends, and this tends to be both expensive and inconvenience. As such, most of them may find it hard to go to the supermarket. The absence of supermarkets, coupled with limited means of transport to the nearby supermarkets, means that the residents in question have to rely on the small convenience and small grocery stores within the neighborhood. For the most part, the store mainly stock soft drinks, processed foods, and alcoholic beverages (Morland, Wing & Roux, 2002). In addition, such products are more likely to be expensive, not to mention unhealthy.

An increased number of researches indicate a direct link between on the one hand, the quality of one’s diet and on the other hand, access to the retailers of fresh food. In a study that was carried out in New York City, North Carolina, and Baltimore, the research findings revealed that adults who had limited access to a supermarket near them were less likely to also access a healthy diet by a factor of between 25 and 46 percent (New York State Department of Health 2007), in comparison with those who had a supermarket near them (Morland et al, 2002). In contrast, a multistate study revealed how there was a resultant 32 percent increase in the consumption of fruits and vegetables among the whites and African Americans with the addition of a supermarket (Morland et al 2002). A study that was conducted in New Orleans revealed that for every extra meter of shelf space that the supermarket devoted to the display of fresh fruits and vegetables, this led to an extra 0.35 fruits and vegetables servings every day (Bodor et al 2008).

Analysis of policy approach

If the supermarkets were to adopt a paradigm shift in the form of guiding principles that ensures maximization of health for customers while locating foods, as opposed to pursuing profit maximization in the 21 century, it is important to take into account the various policy options that the supermarkets could employ in order to realize this dream. To start with, supermarkets may decide to give priority to fresh food retailing, implying that they stock more of the fresh fruits, meat, vegetables, and bakery products to the customers in the neighborhood. In addition, the local authorities, NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations and the bank could also be involved in this once they have been allocated the necessary s project by way of providing loans and grants to the retail food outlets to enable them invest in the delivery of fresh and healthy foods to the customers.

Also, there are often a number of nutrition improvements that are often located in certain neighborhoods, such as the community gardening, or the organic farms. In this case, the supermarkets could also enter into collaboration with the members of such groups so that the supermarkets could also purchase their produce to stock them into their stores. This way, they shall played a role in helping to sustain the neighborhood projects, in addition to ensuring that healthy foods becomes available to members of the community who are not in a position to farm. Besides, there is need for the regulatory authorities to consider reducing regulatory barriers to those businesses that are involved in the sale of fresh produce so that they can increase their stocks, and also make the food available and affordable to the population. Tax incentives also need to be provided to those supermarkets that are involved in the sale of fresh foods so that they are encouraged to increase their uptake and sale of such foods. Moreover, economic development programs needs to be established and made available to the retailers of fresh foods.

There should also be arrangements to ensure that the farm fresh produce are made available to the different supermarkets, farmers’ markets, and the grocery stores (The Wall Street Journal 2010). A financing program needs to be implemented to availa loans and grants to farmers’ markets, supermarkets and retail stores. This shall enable these food outlets to buy more stock of fresh fruits and vegetable, there facilitating in enhancing the healthy benefits of the consumers. Such efforts to increase access to, affordability and availability of healthy farm produces also needs to be expanded by way of including them into the already existing federal programs, in effect ensuring that an increasingly larger number of residents, and more so the senior citizens and those families that have children, are able to purchase the locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables at the farmers’ markets. Collaboration between the supermarkets the already existing federal nutrition programs would also go a long way into helping the supermarkets enhance their resolve to retail healthy foods.

Policy analysis: weaknesses/strengths

Advancing loans and grants to the supermarkets and retail stores in order to enable them purchase and stock fresh foods on their shelves would enable access to these foods to even the poor members of the society. In addition, it also means that the supermarkets can expand the fresh food department and hence increased access to the customers in terms of volumes and variety. In addition, with the additional finances, more supermarkets are likely to be opened up, further increasingly the accessibility of the healthy foods to customers (Timmer et al 1983). On the other hand, this could also lead to increased food prices as the supermarkets endeavor to repay the loans advanced to them.

When the supermarkets collaborate with the available nutritional programs in the neighborhood, there is the likelihood of increased awareness about the need to eat healthy foods, and this would translate into increased purchase of the healthy foods in the supermarkets, thereby increasing their sales volumes. In addition, the community also gets increased access to the healthy foods at the supermarkets. Moreover, the project is likely to remain sustainable because it is beneficial to the two parties involved.

When we have reduced regulatory barrier to the business selling fresh foods, this leads to increased access and affordability of the food by the customers. In addition, the supermarkets are more likely to stock more of the fresh foods. However, there is the risk of compromised quality and freshness of the foods. The provision of loans and grants to the supermarkets, farmers’ markets and the grocery retail stores to enable them transport the fresh produce from the farm to the stores leads to increased accessibility of the foods, and hence enhanced nutritional benefits to the customers. However, there is the risk of increased cost as the supermarkets attempt to account for the transport cost, and as they also endeavor to recoup their profits to facilitate in the repayment of the loans.

Analysis of policy setting

The stakeholders involved in the implementation of the policy approach under question include the community residents, the food retailers (for example, the supermarkets, the retail grocers, and the farmers’ markets), health professionals, the local food proponents, as well as government officials. In this case, the aims of the stakeholders involved would be ensuring increased health of the families and the children to healthy food, thereby increasing their health. In addition, by accessing healthy and fresh foods, the aims of the stakeholders would be to ensure that there is affordable and easy access to the fresh and wholesome foods, thereby leading to reduced cases of food poisoning for example, and reduced cases of obesity in the community. Some of the relevant government agencies involved in the 21 century guiding principles for the location of foods in a supermarket include government officials in the departments of health and agriculture, and policymakers in the supermarket industry.


Supermarkets employ various marketing tactics aimed at ensuring increased purchases by the customers of the items on offer, thereby resulting in profit maximization. The supermarkets have commissioned numerous studies to observe the behavior of consumers and this has helped them convert the shopping environment into one that entices increased shopping by the customers. In the developing regions of Latin America, China, South-East Asia and South Africa, the emergence, expansion and growth of the supermarket has been occasioned mainly by the need for multinational chains to realize additional profits from these untapped markets, following intense competition and saturated markets in Europe and the United States.

By virtue of the fact that they serve individuals from diverse geographic, racial, economic and social settings, supermarkets are also an ideal vehicle in helping to promote access to healthy and fresh foods. This is especially important in the 21st century, seeing that an increasingly higher number of people are more conscious about the need to embrace healthy eating habits. Accordingly, the 21st century guiding principles for the location of food in the supermarkets should emphasize on maximizing health. The development, adoption and implementation of such guiding principles will also bring together stakeholders from diverse sectors such as the food retailers, community residents, local food proponents, health professionals, and government officials.

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