Food shopping and older people

A temporary exhibition, entitled 25 lives seen through food, was been organised by the University of Hertfordshire as part of a research project to improve food security for older people. Visitors were 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 tied in with the University of Hertfordshire’s 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 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 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.'