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Open Access Research

Perceptions on the use of pricing strategies to stimulate healthy eating among residents of deprived neighbourhoods: a focus group study

Wilma E Waterlander1*, Anika de Mul1, Albertine J Schuit12, Jacob C Seidell1 and Ingrid HM Steenhuis1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Health Sciences and the EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, VU University Amsterdam. De Boelelaan 1085, 1081 HV Amsterdam, the Netherlands

2 National Institute for Public Health and the Environment. Postbus 1, 3720 BA Bilthoven, the Netherlands

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2010, 7:44  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-7-44

Published: 19 May 2010

Abstract

Background

Pricing strategies are mentioned frequently as a potentially effective tool to stimulate healthy eating, mainly for consumers with a low socio-economic status. Still, it is not known how these consumers perceive pricing strategies, which pricing strategies are favoured and what contextual factors are important in achieving the anticipated effects.

Methods

We conducted seven focus groups among 59 residents of deprived neighbourhoods in two large Dutch cities. The focus group topics were based on insights from Rogers' Diffusion of Innovations Theory and consisted of four parts: 1) discussion on factors in food selection; 2) attitudes and perceptions towards food prices; 3) thinking up pricing strategies; 4) attitudes and perceptions regarding nine pricing strategies that were nominated by experts in a former Delphi Study. Analyses were conducted with Atlas.ti 5.2 computer software, using the framework approach.

Results

Qualitative analyses revealed that this group of consumers consider price to be a core factor in food choice and that they experience financial barriers against buying certain foods. Price was also experienced as a proficient tool to stimulate healthier food choices. Yet, consumers indicated that significant effects could only be achieved by combining price with information and promotion techniques. In general, pricing strategies focusing on encouraging healthy eating were valued to be more helpful than pricing strategies which focused on discouraging unhealthy eating. Suggested high reward strategies were: reducing the price of healthier options of comparable products (e.g., whole meal bread) compared to unhealthier options (e.g., white bread); providing a healthy food discount card for low-income groups; and combining price discounts on healthier foods with other marketing techniques such as displaying cheap and healthy foods at the cash desk.

Conclusion

This focus group study provides important new insights regarding the use of pricing strategies to stimulate healthy eating. The observed perceptions and attitudes of residents of deprived neighbourhoods can be integrated into future experimental studies and be used to reveal if and how pricing strategies are effective in stimulating healthy eating.