Published: November 2020

Authors: Healthy Eating Research, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, The Food Trust

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Healthy Eating Research (HER), Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and The Food Trust have developed the first national research agenda focused on healthy food retail. The research agenda is the result of a multi-step process, including commissioned research and a Healthy Retail Research convening, which involved public health researchers, advocates, food and beverage retailers, and funders.

The research agenda report and accompanying special journal issue aim to bring attention to the importance of research and evaluation of retail strategies to improve public health, following years of efforts and a recent convening of 46 expert stakeholders representing a wide range of academia, government, advocacy groups, and food and retail industry.

While the convening was held prior to widespread awareness of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., these research priorities are especially timely as a growing number of American families face food challenges as a result of the pandemic.

Healthy Retail Research Agenda Report

This national research agenda outlines key research questions aiming to better understand current food retail practices and consumer behaviors and to identify potential retail strategies to support healthy eating, while reflecting advancements in research and changes in the food retail landscape. Special attention was also given to addressing racial and income disparities in diet quality and related diseases in the development of the research agenda.

Ten key issue areas emerged as priorities for future research. Five focus on understanding the current food retail environment and consumer behavior and five focus on assessing implementation and effectiveness of interventions and policies to attain healthier retail environments. In the report, the authors conclude that public health and industry experts must work together to counter growing food insecurity and disparities by developing retail strategies and best practices that build a more equitable and healthful food system.

Special Journal Issue

A special issue of the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health includes nine papers and commentaries examining the importance of research and evaluation of retail strategies to support healthy eating. The special issue consists of research papers originally commissioned to inform the Healthy Retail Research convening, and additional papers that describe the current state of the retail food environment.

The papers summarize current knowledge on consumer food purchasing trends, the influence of food and beverage companies on the retail food environment, stocking and marketing of sugar-sweetened beverages, in-store food and beverage marketing interventions, and governmental policies to improve the healthfulness of food purchases. Additionally, a commentary paper discusses the effects of COVID-19 on the food system and suggest priority areas for future investigation.

Understanding the Value of Academic Research Partnerships with Food Retailers

Academic researchers and food retailers share a mutual interest in understanding consumer behavior related to grocery shopping and can benefit from collaborative studies. To derive the greatest impact, researchers should have a basic understanding of food retail business dynamics. This brief shares some aspects of food retailing that are common practices across the mainstream supermarket industry, and sheds light on the types of interventions that are more likely to be adopted, scaled up, and supported by grocers because they help improve
business. In addition, it explores topics related to research in the food retail environment, including motivations to partner, outcomes of mutual interest, and challenges research teams may face when collaborating with retailers.

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