Ever since self-service shops began, shopkeepers have realised that where and how a product is placed on the shelf affects its sales. In the old days of personal customer service, it was the manners of the seller that might magic more sales. A comment on one of my shopkeeper ancestors is that she could “whisk customers’ money out of their pockets with her merry laugh.”
A supermarket teller, no matter how talkative, has no such power as the decision to buy has already been made before the trolley reaches the till. So supermarkets are very much engaged in careful placement of products on the shelves and aisles.
No more tempting snacks near the till
We have all noticed over the decades how supermarket aisles have become more glittery with consumer packaged goods (CPGs). Cynics would say that as the nutritional value has declined, the glitter and design of the packaging have become more and more overwhelming. And more and more shelves are taken up with snacks and fast food rather than unwrapped fresh food.
The UK government has just enacted legislation to curb some of this. There is now a list of harmful HFSS food (high in fat, salt and sugar) that is banned from the most prominent shelf positions in the aisles. The food industry is getting ready for this major change. An article in The Grocer points out there are two decisions with money-making implications: (1) where to put the demoted HFSS products now and (2) how to utilise the prime shelf positions. They will be working with the suppliers in new product development (NPD) for this.
To help with this decision-making, Tesco is using new software, the Planogram, to gather data on shelf placement and sales from all of its shops. No need to send round humans laboriously to list the positions of every food. Modern methods of labelling for shelf and till have already gathered all the data, so it just needs to be collated by the software in such a way that the managers can input ‘what if’ scenarios of different possible shelving choices.
It’s a bit creepy how much such shops are already optimising their till takings by subtly controlling our aisle walks and what we see and reach for. Only the most determined and budget-conscious stick to their shopping lists! The managers can analyse it from collating sales records with their shelving choices.
Promote the healthy
So the Government, rather than nanny-nagging the obese customer, is instead using the stick on the culpable food businesses. They will have to demote their harmful products, and they now have the incentive to develop more nutritional NPD to put in that shelf space.
It will be fascinating to see how the supermarkets respond. Note they expect the two things to happen – NPD and continued revenue from HFSS products. What is needed, to save the NHS from growing obesity, is much more NPD, and eventual phasing out of HFSS. Meanwhile, let’s keep a watch on Tesco and see whether its Planogram helps or hinders in the battle against obesity.