RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Another way to stay healthy is to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. NPR's April Fulton tells us how markets big and small are capitalizing on the demand for healthful, fresh food.
Mr. ROMNY TEJEDA (Owner, Romny Mini Market): Hey. How you doing this morning?
APRIL FULTON: Romny Tejeda and his brother have owned the Romny Mini Market in Hartford, Connecticut, for the last 17 years.�
(Soundbite of cash register)
FULTON: The market carries the usual convenience-store items: soda, laundry detergent and candy. It also has a small deli on one side. A few years ago, Tejeda decided to add fresh fruits and vegetables. He wanted to give the place more of a one-stop-shopping feel. At first, he piled up the produce in the back. But that didn't really work.
Mr. TEJEDA: It was not selling in the back. It was the fruits and vegetables that - were just getting spoiled.
FULTON: After throwing out two-thirds of his produce, Tejeda decided to try the fresh items up front, near the register.
Mr. TEJEDA: The bananas, I mean, I used to probably sell a case of banana every three days. Now it's pretty much two a day - two cases a day.
FULTON: He's now able to expand the produce section from one refrigerator shelf to four.
Mr. TEJEDA: Instead of just having green peppers, we're going to have the green, the red - and the same thing with the apples and oranges and stuff.
FULTON: Tejeda's success selling fresh food doesn't surprise Brian Wansink. He co-directs the Center for Behavioral Economics and Child Nutrition at Cornell University. Wansink studies the subtle cues that guide what people eat, and what they buy.
Professor BRIAN WANSINK (Co-director, Center for Behavioral Economics and Child Nutrition, Cornell University): The typical person is much more likely to buy something in the first aisle they walk down than the second aisle. They're more likely to buy something in the second aisle that they walk down than the third -or the fourth or the fifth.
FULTON: That's because people are less pressed for time when they first walk into a store, and they're more likely to pick something up on impulse, he says. Capturing that impulse works in small stores like Tejeda's. But big, suburban supermarket chains take it much further. For example, Wegmans supermarket gets people to buy more nutritious foods by using the same tools snack food companies have used for years - which could mean healthier consumers, and healthier profits for the grocery.
Krystal Register is a Wegmans nutritionist. This is one of their brand-new stores that just opened in Lanham, Maryland.
Ms. KRYSTAL REGISTER (Nutritionist, Wegmans): When you first walk into our stores, you are seeing the rainbow of colors of the produce department.
FULTON: The produce department is the heart of this store. The first thing you see when you walk in is yams. Krystal Register says everything is stacked just so.
Ms. REGISTER: We do have the beautiful cauliflower up here, too, the purple and white.
FULTON: Everybody who walked by stopped to take a look at yams and cauliflower. Register explains why the food looks so good.
Ms. REGISTER: We actually have lightened the ceiling in this new store, and we're using some natural light with some high windows. And then, yes, we direct the lighting right on the product.
FULTON: It looks like the broccoli is a star on stage. Next, she takes me over to the frozen section, where lots of frozen vegetables are displayed in cases right at eye level. Research shows that people are 35 percent more likely to choose foods that are within inches of eye level. But also, the frozen green beans are displayed right next to the frozen Salisbury steak.
Ms. REGISTER: Chicken, pizza rolls, tater tots, special-blend vegetables, strawberries, waffles - so you can kind of see, okay, I can get fruit in with breakfast. I can get veggies in with lunch or dinner...
FULTON: Brian Wansink, of Cornell, has also found that when it comes to fresh fruits and vegetables, the cheapest price is not always the best way to attract customers - even cost-conscious customers.
Prof. WANSINK: When you sell produce, it's not about making it a deal. If you tell somebody, hey, I'll give you an apple for 20 percent off, you're not going to buy an apple.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Prof. WANSINK: But if you say, hey, hey, I've got - this is a Courtland apple, you know, and it's 5 percent more. People go, oh, yeah. You know, I'm sick of those Delicious apples. I'll pay 5 percent more to get something that I think is going to be cooler and a little bit more tasty.
FULTON: So while we still may be a nation of Big Mac eaters, our demand for healthier food is growing. The Food Marketing Institute says a grocery store's produce section makes up more than 10 percent of a supermarket's sales, just behind meats. And their newest study shows shoppers are preparing more meals at home than they did last year. And that's an opportunity for grocery stores.
April Fulton, NPR News, Washington.
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