Researchers will soon study CBD and alcohol products using a fake grocery store in Chapel Hill
The UNC-Chapel Hill’s Mini Mart, a replicated version of a small convenience store, serves as a laboratory space to study consumer shopping behaviors.
Every common grocery store has its essentials. Shopping carts perched outside to roam through tight-packed aisles, cash registers beeping through assortments of items, or even the vague hum of air ventilation static.
It’s that kind of fast-paced and loud environment that UNC-Chapel Hill and Wake Forest University researchers are hoping to mimic at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Mini Mart. The mock space, which opened five years ago, carries more than 300 food and drink products, squeezed into two narrow aisles.
“Participants in a research study come into the store and interact with products as they would in the real world and even buy products to take home with them, which is fairly unusual for research studies,” said Marissa Hall, one of the Mart’s research coordinators. “And it allows us to understand the impact of potential policies and other interventions on consumer shopping behavior.”
Researchers are able to use the laboratory space to design studies based around why people make certain decisions when they shop for products typically found in a grocery store. Two years ago, Hall, alongside epidemiologist Lindsey Smith Taillie, conducted research on how graphic health labels on products could impact shopping decisions, specifically on items that have been linked to health complications and diseases.
Those participating in the study would use the space to shop for groceries as normal, but with a slight alteration. Products around them featured photos of diseased hearts if they’ve been shown to contribute to heart damage, or images of gangrenous feet on products shown to potentially increase the likelihood of Type 2 diabetes. Shoppers had to make the snap decision of whether they still wanted to buy the items.
“There’s some evidence that health warnings are a really promising way of lowering purchases of tobacco and other kinds of unhealthy products,” Hall said. “But people hadn't looked so closely at this kind of pictorial health warning for sugary drinks.”
And, this summer, UNC and Wake Forest researchers will begin laying the groundwork to study how consumers respond to health and medical claims on CBD products. Hall says research is based on studies showing how North Carolina dispensaries often advertise their CBD products through unauthorized medical claims of pain and nausea relief.
There are also future plans to study tobacco and alcohol products.
The Mart is located at the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, off of MLK Boulevard and roughly four miles away from UNC. Alice Ammerman, the center’s director, said the Mart’s location makes it easier for community members to access the space.
“This is much easier in that regard,” Ammerman said. “We can work things out with the university in terms of parking, so people don't have to pay for those who may not be able to afford it.”
Researchers will begin configuring and designing how the study would be implemented at the UNC Mini Mart this summer — in hopes of launching the study in the next year or two.