2 November 2017

Does the small print on ingredient labels make shopping more difficult for older people? What role does food have in the lives of those who are retired and living on their own?

These are things that visitors to a free, pop-up exhibition, taking place on the 7, 8 and 10 November at the Jubilee Centre in St Albans, will be able to explore.

The temporary exhibition, entitled 25 lives seen through food, has been organised by the University of Hertfordshire as part of a research project to improve food security for older people. Visitors will be able to view a selection of photographs and videos collected during a research project with 25 households in the local area, as well as being able to interact with exhibits and contribute their own thoughts, experiences, photos and recipes.

New research report

The exhibition ties in with the University of Hertfordshire’s newly released research report exploring what retailers can do to improve the retail experience for older shoppers. For some older people living alone a trip to the supermarket may be the main opportunity for community interaction each week. The research report urges supermarkets to:

  • Introduce ‘slow’ or ‘relaxed’ checkout lanes at set times, and support initiatives such as Slow Shopping
  • Use tailored offers and incentives that encourage older people to shop during quieter periods to make the supermarket a less stressful and more sociable, enjoyable environment
  • Provide more extensive seating areas or rest points
  • Arrange at-table lunch events aimed at older people in in-store cafés
  • Provide a selection of popular products near the front of stores to make the shopping trip more manageable for those with poorer mobility
  • Provide an accumulative discount scheme so lower-spend customers can access discounts once a certain spend is achieved over a number of weeks

Shopping buddy schemes

As part of the research the University has found that many older people choose supermarkets according to their perception of ‘helpful’ staff. Retailers are being encouraged to set up ‘shopping buddy’ schemes with volunteers to assist people who need support and increase staff training to meet the needs of older and more vulnerable customers.

Professor Wendy Wills Director of the Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care, who has led the research project, said: “With one in 10 people aged over 65 in England and Wales suffering from, or at risk of, malnutrition, regular trips to the supermarket can ensure older people continue to have access to the food they want to eat. Crucially, food shopping provides older people with opportunities for social interaction as the risk of loneliness increases. Supermarkets that introduce creative, practical measures to improve the shopping experience for older customers can play a leading role in protecting older people’s food security, and appeal to an increasingly important target market.”


Those interested in finding out more about the University’s research might also like to attend a free evening event on Tuesday 7 November, 18.30 – 20.00, where they will be able to meet the researchers and hear more about how the research has been carried out.

There will also be a special event specifically for local retailers on Thursday 9 November, 11.00-14.00, to help them learn how they can better serve the increasing numbers of older people. There will be two external key speakers at the retailers’ event, Katherine Vero, Founder of Slow Shopping® and Michelle Carruthers MBE, Chief Executive, Food Train Scotland as well as Professor Wendy Wills from the University of Hertfordshire.

This event is being held as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science.