Thursday, 28 June 2012

What happens when you put fresh fruit & veg in local corner shops?

Posted by Jean Adams

This post is about a research paper that is published on-line today. Writing about research findings is a new venture for the Fuse Blog. Let us know if you want to see more results write-ups like this by leaving a comment below, or tweeting me @jeanmadams

In 2008, the Department of Health in England decided that one way to get people to eat more fruit and veg was to make it more readily available in local, corner shops.

The rationale was fairly simple – corner shops are less likely to sell fruit and veg; people who live in poorer neighbourhoods are less likely to have cars; thus they probably shop more at local corner shops and so probably have less opportunities for buying fruit and veg than people who have a car and use it to shop at a big supermarket.

Simple, but perhaps flawed. But let’s not talk about that for now. 

The corner store initiative was part of the all-singing-all-dancing Change4Life campaign. In our region, the North East, 17 stores were selected for an intensive intervention that involved part funding for a brand new chiller cabinet, a partial store re-fit to allow fruit and veg to be displayed more prominently, a funky little fruit and veg stand on wheels, and lots of Change4Life branded ‘merch’ – posters, stickers, shelf strips, you name it. A further 70 stores got just the stand and the merch. All stores were given various written materials to help them make more of fruit and veg.

Launch of a new Change4Life store in Portsmouth
There was a lot of publicity around the intervention and lots of shops got in their local papers. Which was great. But the point was to encourage people to eat more fruit and veg. Did it?

We spent a lot of time and effort trying to get funding to do a full-on outcome evaluation of this intervention. Sadly, although we did initially get awarded funding, it was withdrawn at the last moment (a story for a different post). Instead we did a small, process evaluation. Around two years after initial implementation, we looked at whether the stores were still using the intervention materials. We also asked 10 people who had been involved in the intervention in different capacities how it had gone.

What we found was that less than half of the stores were still using the campaign materials – apart from the funded chillers, which were all still in place. Shopkeepers told us that the merch just didn’t last very long and they didn’t know how to get replacements. They also thought that the campaign had been intended as a short-term initiative and were a bit surprised that we were still interested two years on.

Lots of shopkeepers and managers complained about a lack of communication with the intervention team. They didn’t have a clear idea what the intervention was aiming to do, or how to keep it going after the initial fanfare of its launch. DH was aware of this, and they tried to maintain the momentum by linking shops to local health workers and primary schools in the hope that schools and other community organisations might choose to buy their fruit and veg from Change4Life stores. Unfortunately, this never really worked and there were some tensions between the ultimate commercial aims of shops and health promotion aims of health workers.

As we weren’t able to collect any information on the impact of the intervention on consumption of fruit and veg amongst local people, we can’t ever say for sure whether or not the campaign was effective. But our results do suggest that it was unlikely to have had any sustained impact.

Sadly, lots of enthusiasm and funding seems to have got bogged down by poor communication and a focus on style over substance. The lessons are wide reaching, but perhaps not new.

You can read the full results here.

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