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                       CHOICES IN RURAL NORFOLK:

                       SUMMARY OF PHASE 2 REPORT

                      Prepared by Tracey Scarpello, R.Nutr

This summary describes the second stage of work undertaken as part of a three stage
pilot study to investigate how village shops can help customers choose more healthier
foods. The research was commissioned by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and is
being carried out in Norfolk by scientists at the Institute of Food Research, in
conjunction with other organisations (Rural Shops Alliance; Lyndon Green Marketing
Ltd; Primary Care Trusts; East Anglia Food Link; University of East Anglia).

The pilot study breakdown is below:
Phase 1: In the first year of the pilot study, ideas for increasing healthier food choices
were gathered from village shoppers using in-depth interviews. Customers were keen
to get more healthy, tasty and convenient food options into the stores1.
Phase 2: As a result of Phase 1, this second stage has investigated how healthier snack
foods could be promoted in village shops, by testing this in three shops in Norfolk.
Phase 3: Will look at whether or not the new products remain in the stores and how
well they sell, after the project-team has stopped providing advice and about a year
after the products were introduced. Eventually it is hoped the findings of the work
could be transferred to other village shops throughout the UK.

    A summary of year 1 is available via, or by calling Tracey
Scarpello on 01603 255054
Reasons for undertaking the study
Eating too many foods high in fat and salt and eating too few fruits and vegetables,
can contribute to major diseases such as heart disease and some cancers. There is
currently concern that access to affordable healthier foods may be limited in rural
areas. The growth of large supermarkets has resulted in an increase in closure of
village stores. In addition, village shops generally stock fewer healthier food options
and tend to be more expensive than large supermarkets. Traditionally less healthy
snacks, such as chocolate, crisps and sugary fizzy drinks have been a key market area
for village stores. Providing healthier snacks, in addition to less healthy options, gives
customers the opportunity to choose something different and eat more healthily. For
the village store-keeper, it gives an opportunity to increase profit, by meeting new
customer desires.

How the study was carried out
Three different village shops in Norfolk were selected to test the potential for all
village shops to successfully promote healthier options. The following healthier
snacks were picked for the trial:
Foods: Snack packs of dried fruit; fruit bars; fruit/ vegetable crisps; nuts/ seeds;
single apples and bananas.
Drinks: Snack bottles of pure fruit juices/ smoothies; water; semi-skimmed or
skimmed milk/ flavoured milk.
Healthier snacks had to meet a certain standard, set in conjunction with the FSA, to
ensure they were healthier than alternatives, such as chocolate and crisps. The
healthier snacks had to contain relatively low levels of fat, salt and added sugar.

The pilot study used marketing messages such as “Dare to be Different”, and
attractive displays as near to the till areas as possible, to tempt customers to buy the
products, in place of less healthy options. The store-keepers were responsible for
managing the plan in each of the stores, so they could make sure the plan fitted well
into each of the different shops.

The pilot study explored the effect of the healthier snack trial from the viewpoints of
both shoppers and store-keepers through:
    1) Detailed sale data was recorded before and after the new products had been
         introduced, and the sale pattern changes were compared with sales recorded in
         three other similar village stores where no new products were introduced.
    2) Questionnaires were collected from shoppers before any changes were made
         in the stores and after changes had been made, to see if the intervention trial
         had changed shopping habits.
    3) The three store-keepers who had made changes in the stores were interviewed
         in detail to see what they felt about making changes in their shops. In addition,
         five shoppers from each store were interviewed in-depth to see what they
         thought about the trial, marketing techniques and the healthier foods on offer.

Main findings of the study
Overall, sales of healthier snacks increased as a result of the pilot study, with some
products selling better than others in each of the different shops.

For village shoppers traditionally, factors, such as lack of time and high availability of
less healthy options mean that less healthy goods may be chosen relatively frequently.
The new healthier snacks were generally perceived as tasty and “something different”.
For this reason, shoppers were generally positive about the new changes in the shops.
In addition, seeing the shops providing new foods, appeared to strengthen a sense of
loyalty to the store-keepers and the village shop.

For the store-keepers, the changes were viewed as partially successful, with different
benefits noted by different store-keepers. Generally village stores face a number of
barriers when trying new market areas. This study found that lack of staff time caused
particular difficulties. Problems were increased by lack of money, lack of time for
training, difficulties in finding suppliers able to deliver relatively small quantities of
goods, and time spent on meeting general store legislation requirements. Store-
keepers noted they were prepared to undertake relatively long working hours, in an
attempt to overcome barriers, and because they actively enjoyed customer interaction.
Like the shoppers, they also felt the shops played an important role in the community.
However, it seemed that on occasion, time dedicated to customer interaction, meant
there was less time to look at the other store needs, such as finding new goods to
Selection of stocks was apparently shaped by personal preferences of the store-
keepers. The keepers demonstrated difficulties in selecting and obtaining healthier
products. For the two smaller trial stores, finding suitable suppliers for healthier items
sold within suitable trading terms, proved to be particularly problematic. Healthier
products which fitted secondary consumer desires, such as those produced locally, or
those marketed to children, were especially rare to obtain. In these smaller shops,
store-keepers reported an increased awareness of different product opportunities, to be
a particular benefit of the pilot study. The larger trial store, associated with a buying
group, and with higher numbers of staff, had access to a relatively greater range of
healthier products, and reported overall increased sale of healthier snacks to be a
particular benefit of the pilot study.

For all three trial stores, the marketing material appeared to be received positively.
Marketing in the two smaller trial stores had tended to be restricted to customer
requests and promoted by “word-of-mouth”. The larger trial store, with less limited
resources, demonstrated more in-depth marketing techniques. Nevertheless,
supermarkets were generally believed to have superior marketing methods, and it was
recognised that promotion of healthier options was becoming more common-place in
those stores. The store-keepers in this pilot study therefore, appeared to appreciate the
quality of the pilot study marketing material, and believed this helped to balance the
materials provided frequently by manufacturers of less healthy snack foods.

Study recommendations
To successfully promote healthier goods within village stores, recommendations must
be attractive to both store-keepers and shoppers, and be suitable for the village store
environment. Support for village stores, must be co-ordinated centrally to make things
easier for the stores, and to enable support to be provided relatively inexpensively.
Full recommendations will be published following Phase 3 of this pilot study, and are
due to be posted on the VOICE website, at
This pioneering pilot study, has:
      Demonstrated positive changes in the purchase and consumption of healthier
       snack items in village stores, and therefore demonstrated potential to further
       successful promotion of other healthier options in village shops
      Deepened knowledge of the village store sector, which is an under-studied
      Will provide recommendations to increase healthier product choices in village
       stores, throughout the UK

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