Background Supermarkets are a major source of food for families and women remain primarily responsible for food shopping tasks. The factors women perceive to influence their food shopping choices are poorly understood, particularly in relation to in-store layout. We aimed to examine women’s perceptions of factors that influence their food shopping choices, including product placement in-store, and identify ways that supermarkets could support healthier food shopping choices.
Methods In this qualitative cross-sectional study, semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with a random sample of 20 women customers aged 18–45 years. Women were recruited from six supermarkets across England. Participants were asked to describe the reasons for their choice of supermarket and factors in-store that prompted their food selections. The actions supermarkets’, governments’ and customers’ can take to encourage healthier food shopping choices were explored. Thematic analysis was conducted using QSR NVIVO software 11 to identify key themes. Four researchers were involved in developing the initial coding framework, double coding of six interview transcripts and refining the coding framework.
Results Participants had a median age of 39.5 years (IQR: 35.1, 42.3), median weekly grocery spend of £70 (IQR: 50, 88), and 44% had left school aged 16 years. Six key themes were identified: 1) Physical Environment, 2) Value for Money, 3) Influence of Family, 4) Physiological/Psychological State, 5) Healthy Eating Priorities and 6) Level of Awareness of Food Decisions. Women reported that achieving value for money, feeling hungry, tired, or stressed, and meeting family members’ food preferences influenced their food shopping choices. The physical environment was also important, including product quality and variety, plus ease of accessing the store or products in-store. Some participants described taking a highly conscious approach to making food choices while shopping (i.e. lists), but many described how they and their family made unintended food selections as a result of prominent placement of unhealthy products. In addition to these six themes, participants described healthy eating as a personal responsibility but some stated that governments and supermarkets could be more supportive to help customers make healthier food shopping choices.
Conclusion This study identified a number of factors that influence women’s food shopping choices and described how current placement strategies can shape these, particularly in a less aware manner. Creating healthier supermarket environments could produce a shared responsibility for healthy eating. Future research could further explore perceptions that healthy eating is a personal rather than a societal or business responsibility.
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