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An overview of the mm chain of supermarkets in the united kingdom

Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research http: This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License https: The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on http: Abstract Background The majority of food in the United Kingdom is purchased in supermarkets, and therefore, supermarket interventions provide an opportunity to improve diets.

Randomized controlled trials are costly, time-consuming, and difficult to conduct in real stores. Alternative approaches of assessing the impact of supermarket interventions on food purchases are needed, especially with respect to assessing differential impacts on population subgroups. Objective The aim of this study was to assess the feasibility of using the United Kingdom Virtual Supermarket UKVSa three-dimensional 3D computer simulation of a supermarket, to measure food purchasing behavior across income groups.

Methods Participants primary household shoppers in the United Kingdom with computer access were asked to conduct two shopping tasks using the UKVS and complete questionnaires on demographics, food purchasing habits, and feedback on the UKVS software. Data on recruitment method and rate, completion of study procedure, purchases, and feedback on usability were collected to inform future trial protocols. Conclusions The UKVS is likely to be a useful tool to examine the effects of nutrition interventions using randomized controlled designs.

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Feedback was positive from participants who completed the study and did not differ by income group. However, retention was low and needs to be addressed in future studies.

This study provides purchasing data to establish sample size requirements for full trials using the UKVS. Globally, dietary risk factors account for 11. In the United Kingdom, dietary risk factors account for nearly one-fifth of deaths and one-tenth of disability-adjusted life years [ 2 ].

Improvements in diet could be achieved by tackling key determinants of food choice.

Supermarket Choice, Shopping Behavior, Socioeconomic Status, and Food Purchases

Price is a key determinant of food choice: Health-related food taxes and subsidies HRFTS are interventions that raise the price of unhealthy foods or lower the price of healthy foods to encourage healthier diets. Sugar-sweetened beverage taxes have been introduced in Mexico, France, and Chile [ 4 - 6 ] and recently announced in the United Kingdom [ 7 ]. Dominica applies an excise tax to foods and drinks with high sugar content; Hungary has a public health tax that is applied to selected foods, including those with high salt or sugar content; and Finland levies taxes on confectionery and ice-cream [ 6 ].

Other HRFTS that have been suggested include subsidies on healthy foods and taxes based on nutrient profiling models [ 8 ]. In the United Kingdom, the majority of food is purchased in supermarket chains [ 10 ].

This makes supermarkets an important environment to consider when examining the impact of specific price changes on food purchasing. Supermarkets may not wish to participate in trials where there is a risk of reduced sales, loss of customers, or negative media coverage eg, taxes on unhealthy foods.


Nationwide promotional and pricing strategies by retailers may limit what interventions can be implemented at individual sites, and there may be reluctance to implement interventions that depend on the input of supermarket staff time eg, changing product placement. The resources required to run full trials in real supermarkets eg, the cost of subsidies an overview of the mm chain of supermarkets in the united kingdom prohibit the number of interventions that can be tested in real supermarkets.

Evidence on the effects of interventions on supermarket purchases may therefore need to be gathered by other means—virtual supermarkets are one prospect. A virtual supermarket is a three-dimensional 3D graphical representation of a real supermarket in which participants can complete shopping tasks. Virtual supermarkets have been previously used to examine price interventions and have been validated against real supermarket purchases [ 11 - 13 ]. In these virtual supermarkets, participants are asked to complete a shopping task specified by researchers and do not pay real money or receive real versions of the foods purchased in the virtual environment.

The validation study found that shopping patterns in the NZVS were comparable with those in real life: Objectives This paper introduces a United Kingdom Virtual Supermarket UKVS that resembles a small supermarket store and presents the results of a feasibility study assessing recruitment, retention, purchasing variability, and participant responses to the newly developed software.

In this study, we recruited participants to complete two shopping tasks and sociodemographic questionnaires at a single time point. We also examined differences in the above across different income groups. Lack of evidence on the differential impacts of HRFTS among population subgroups has been identified in a number of reviews [ 18 - 20 ]. In addition, previous experimental studies of food pricing strategies have observed differential recruitment and retention rates by participant group, possibly linked to differences in ease of participation [ 21 ].

Finally, as no previous UKVS studies have been done, we needed to collect data on purchases and variability in purchases to assess likely sample sizes for randomized controlled trials RCTs in the UKVS. This study aimed to address the following research questions: How effective are online methods, plus snowballing, for the recruitment of participants for a UKVS study?

What are the dropout rates for a UKVS study?

List of supermarket chains in the United Kingdom

How much variability is there in next-day shopping behavior in the UKVS? How do participants report ease of participation and appreciation of the UKVS?

Do recruitment and dropout rates, variability in next-day shopping behavior, and ease of participation vary by income group?

  • Sales impact of displaying alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages in end-of-aisle locations;
  • Coefficients for fruit and vegetables represent percentage change per unit change in predictor variable, determined by back-transforming exponentiating B coefficients, and expressing as percentage change;
  • Improvements in diet could be achieved by tackling key determinants of food choice;
  • Am J Prev Med.

The creation of the UKVS from the Dutch Virtual Supermarket template comprised the replacement of Dutch products with UK products, changes to the software to make it fit within the UK context eg, English aisle signsand changes to the study procedure format.