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An Apple a Day

By Janet Perez

NMSU Professor Collin Payne

Burgers, fries and cupcakes? Fruits and vegetables may be a better choice, says researcher Collin Payne.

Encouraging Hispanics to make better food choices is focus of marketing study

Hispanics in the United States are particularly susceptible to such health problems as diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, certain cancers and obesity, all of which have been linked to diet.

The obvious solution to making Hispanics healthier is to have them change their lifestyles, particularly when it comes to exchanging fatty, processed foods for fruits and vegetables. But while the solution is obvious, getting there is not so easy.

Enter Collin Payne, an assistant marketing professor in New Mexico State University’s College of Business. Payne currently is in the first stage of an 18-month, three-stage project aimed at changing how Hispanics shop for groceries by altering how stores cater to Hispanics. Payne’s work is being funded through a more than $150,000 grant from the Paso del Norte Health Foundation in El Paso.

“Dr. Payne’s research will rigorously test solutions for increasing purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables in regional grocery stores,” said Myrna Deckert, president and CEO of the Paso del Norte Health Foundation. “If changes are to be made in the way grocery stores sell fruits and vegetables, those changes must be rooted in the best science. We know there are many different reasons why people eat or don’t eat some food. But if someone isn’t buying fruits and vegetables, we can be pretty sure they aren’t eating them either.”

Joining Payne in the research are Mihai Niculescu, an assistant professor of marketing at NMSU; Rebecca Palacios, an assistant professor of health science at NMSU; and David R. Just, an associate professor at Cornell University, who will act as a consultant.

“We want to know, No. 1, whether small changes in grocery stores can help consumers in the Paso del Norte region know how many fruits and vegetables to purchase and consume,” Payne said. “And No. 2, we also want to understand how to include the business community in coming up with sustainable solutions for them (i.e., maintain profitability) and consumers regarding helping them eat healthier.”

To deal with the first objective, Payne and his team are working with one grocery store in El Paso to try to understand how fruits and vegetables are used in the homes of Hispanic families and the potential obstacles that would prevent families from purchasing more of the items. The team is creating social messages to be placed on grocery carts that suggest how many fruits and vegetables are normal to buy in that particular store and how many fruits and vegetables should be purchased. The group also will put “healthy tracks” advertising on the grocery store’s floor that details and suggests where to get fruits and vegetables and why people should consider purchasing them.

The ultimate goal of the study is to increase Hispanic purchases of fruits and vegetables at regional grocery stores by 10 percent.

“It is the Paso del Norte Health Foundation’s intent to lead a regional movement to make healthy eating the easy choice for all residents in the Paso del Norte region,” Deckert said.

Payne and his group began working on the project over the summer and now are completing preliminary work such as preparing for grocery store health interventions and creating a “toolbox” that the grocery store in El Paso can use to make simple changes by Feb. 1, 2013.

For the first phase of the project, Payne’s team sought to understand the impact of a grocery store environment on purchasing and to identify barriers to healthy behaviors.

During the second stage of the project, Palacios will conduct focus groups composed of Hispanic consumers to identify potential barriers to buying more fruits and vegetables. For the final stage of the project, Niculescu will study over 20 weeks the impact changes to the test store’s layout, advertising and promotions have on Hispanic shoppers.


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