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Traditional dietary assessment methods in research can be challenging, with participant burden to complete an interview, diary, 24 h recall or questionnaire and researcher burden to code the food record to obtain a nutrient breakdown. Self-reported assessment methods are subject to recall and social desirability biases, in addition to selection bias from the nature of volunteering to take part in a research study. Supermarket loyalty card transaction records, linked to back of pack nutrient information, present a novel opportunity to use objective records of food purchases to assess diet at a household level. With a large sample size and multiple transactions, it is possible to review variation in food purchases over time and across different geographical areas.
Materials and methods:
This study uses supermarket loyalty card transactions for one retailer's customers in Leeds, for 12 months during 2016. Fruit and vegetable purchases for customers who appear to shop regularly for a ‘complete’ shop, buying from at least 7 of 11 Living Cost and Food Survey categories, were calculated. Using total weight of fruits and vegetables purchased over one year, average portions (80g) per day, per household were generated. Descriptive statistics of fruit and vegetable purchases by age, gender and Index of Multiple Deprivation of the loyalty card holder were generated. Using Geographical Information Systems, maps of neighbourhood purchases per month of the year were created to visualise variations.
The loyalty card holder transaction records represent 6.4% of the total Leeds population. On average, households in Leeds purchase 3.5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day, per household. Affluent and rural areas purchase more fruit and vegetables than average with 22% purchasing more than 5 portions/day. Conversely poor urban areas purchase less, with 18% purchasing less than 1 portion/day. Highest purchases are in the winter months, with lowest in the summer holidays. Loyalty cards registered to females purchased 0.4 portions per day more than male counterparts. The over 65 years purchased 1.5 portions per day more than the 17–24 year olds. A clear deprivation gradient is observed, with the most deprived purchasing 1.5 portions less per day than the least deprived.
Loyalty card transaction data offer an exciting opportunity for measuring variation in fruit and vegetable purchases. Variation is observed by age, gender, deprivation, geographically across a city and throughout the seasons. These insights can inform both policymakers and retailers regarding areas for fruit and vegetable promotion.
Supermarket transaction data, generated from loyalty cards, offers a novel source of food purchase information. Data are available for large sample sizes, over sustained periods of time, allowing for habitual purchasing patterns to be generated. In the UK, recommended dietary patterns to achieve a healthy diet are pictorially illustrated using the Eatwell Guide. Foods include: Fruit and vegetables; starchy products including potatoes, bread, pasta, rice; dairy or dairy alternatives; proteins such as beans, pulses, fish, eggs and meat; oils and spreads; and advice to limit foods high in salt, fat and sugar. Through mapping of foods purchased to the categories of the Eatwell Guide it is possible to review population performance against these national recommendations.
Materials and methods
All loyalty card transaction records for purchases made in a UK supermarket chain, by residents of Yorkshire and the Humber during 2016 were included in this research. Customers who purchased foods from 7 or 11 Living Cost and Food Survey (LCFS) categories on ten or more occasions throughout the year were included in the sample, as these customers were considered to be purchasing the majority of their foods from the supermarket. All foods purchased were mapped to the Eatwell Guide food groups via the LCFS categories.
Households purchased: 25% of their total spend on fruits and vegetables, compared with 39% recommended; 13% on starchy products compared to 37% recommended; 23% of protein rich foods compared with 12% recommended; 12% dairy and alternatives compared to 8%; oils and spreads 2% compared to 1% recommended; and 25% foods that should be limited compared to 3% (recommended, but not pictorially illustrated on the plate).
Supermarket transaction data is a novel source of food purchase information which can be used to illustrate dietary behaviours in the UK population. However, it represents foods purchased, not consumed and is at a household level, not individual. Food purchases outside the home are not included. That said, it is arguably an objective measure for dietary assessment. From this study, it is clear to see that food purchases do not match the recommendations. Purchases of high sugar, high fat and high salt snacks constitute a significant proportion of spending, when they should in fact be limited. Protein rich products are also over-represented. Fruit and vegetables and starchy products are under-represented. This insight can benefit both retailers and policy makers for understanding the food purchase behaviours of our society.
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