Questions? AskAuckland

The New Zealand Virtual Supermarket

21 May 2014

The first Virtual Supermarket (pictured) was created in the Netherlands by Dr Waterlander. The tool is a three-dimensional computer simulation of a real supermarket. Gaming technology is used to simulate a real supermarket shopping experience where virtual food items can be selected and purchased. Photographs of real foods are used to compose virtual food products and prices are displayed on shelf labels.

Structural interventions such as lowering fruit and vegetable prices, increasing prices of unhealthy foods, front-of-pack (FOP) nutrient labelling or food reformulation are becoming more frequently mentioned as being promising interventions for improving population diets compared to nutrition education alone. However, it is very important to experimentally test the effectiveness of such interventions before they are introduced on a large scale. In many parts of the world, supermarkets are the dominant food environment; this is the place where people purchase most of their food. Experiments in supermarkets allow testing the effects of interventions on a wide range of food products – e.g., a fat tax could influence the purchases of fatty products, but also that of sugary products – and thereby give a fair insight into the overall health effects of different policy measures. Up to date, good quality supermarket trials are lacking as they tend to be complex and costly to conduct. This is especially true for randomized controlled trials. The Virtual Supermarket offers a solution to issues surrounding the complexities of supermarket intervention research and can be used to study the effects of interventions in a virtual-reality setting.

Wilma Waterlander joined the National Institute for Health Innovation in February 2012 and is working on the development of a New Zealand version of the Virtual Supermarket (software funded by the VU University Amsterdam). The software will be finished in February 2013 and will simulate an average New Zealand supermarket with New Zealand food products and prices. Data from the Nutritrack database served as an input for the product selection, nutrient contents and prices in the New Zealand Virtual Supermarket. The program will contain ~1,500 unique products within 81 food categories. The New Zealand Virtual Supermarket will be validated in February – July 2013 where we will compare participants’ virtual and real grocery shopping behaviour. Subsequently, we plan to use the New Zealand Virtual Supermarket in various food pricing and food labelling experiments.

People that are involved in the New Zealand Virtual Supermarket studies include: Dr Wilma Waterlander, Associate Professor Cliona Ni Mhurchu, Dr Helen Eyles, Dr Yannan Jiang and SARA Computing and Networking Services Amsterdam.

For more information please contact Cliona Ni Mhurchu

Publications on the (Dutch) Virtual Supermarket can be found here: