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What is in the Finnish shopping basket? – shopping data to be collected for research

Published on 15.9.2023
Tampere University
Kala-ateria lautasella
Kuva: Kuva: Joona Kotilainen/
Conducted at Tampere University and the University of Helsinki, the LoCard research utilises S Group’s customer data in a scientific study. The project has looked at, among other things, issues such as sustainable diet, motives for selecting food and the carbon footprint of purchases, among other things. The study, which is unique also internationally, is based on consumers’ groceries data in a new way. The new data collection for the project will be conducted in autumn 2023. The co-op members of S Group will be asked to allow their groceries data to be used in the research. Even more than half of Finnish households could participate in the research.

The type of food consumed affects health, well-being, the environment, and society. The LoCard study examines these phenomena based on Finnish grocery stores’ purchase datasets. Since 2016, the research group has utilised the purchase data of those S Group co-op members who have given their consent for healthcare and social scientific research purposes.

In the multidisciplinary research project, the connection between groceries and health, well-being and the environment is examined. The purpose of the project is, for example, to identify different styles of buying groceries among the population, the changes in the styles and efficient ways to guide customers towards sustainability objectives. The key objective of the researchers is to understand what kinds of challenges different population groups have in purchasing healthy, ecologically sustainable, and affordable groceries. Using a retailer’s customer loyalty system in scientific research is globally unique. The researchers of LoCard have identified two other international research groups that utilise a retailer’s customer loyalty system data in the same way and scope.

Innovative cooperation with the company enables a new type of research material.

“The significance of a high-quality and up-to-date data is essential in our research. The amount of data has also increased and fuelled the business. In the spirit of circular economy, our research utilises the data collected by the company and produces new kind of social value from it. Launching the data collection now allows us to collect a large amount of data on groceries in a longitudinal setting from different population groups and on factors influencing the purchases,” says Jaakko Nevalainen, Professor of Biostatistics at Tampere University.

The multidisciplinary research project combines, e.g., nutrition, public health, health data science, consumer research and economics.

Data indicate consumers’ sustainable choices

The LoCard research project creates valuable data on food consumption both from the perspectives of public health and sustainability. These themes have also been included in S Group’s sustainability programme, where one of the objectives is increasing the share of vegetables and plant-based food to 65% of all the food sold by 2030.

“We want to support socially significant research by providing data to be used for science. The research project also provides valuable information on how Finnish consumers can be helped and supported towards smart food choices,” says Sampo Päällysaho from SVP Groceries in S Group.

“Through our own data, we also bring constant and substantive advantage to our co-op members. The healthiness, price, climate effects and domestic content of the purchases can always be tracked in the S-mobiili app by navigating to one’s own purchases,” Päällysaho adds.

S Group enables the research by giving the co-op members an opportunity to participate in the study. The company does not define the researchers’ research questions and it does not fund the research, either. Moreover, the S Group does not have access to the research material collected by the project.

The S Group co-op members will be contacted personally in stages by sending out an email about the research project and the collection of purchase data in autumn 2023.

LoCard conducts multidisciplinary research on commerce and health

Based on the purchase data, LoCard has examined, e.g., the changes in different consumer groups towards a more sustainable dietthe carbon footprint of groceries and the motives for selecting food in different population groups. Based on the research, it can be said that price is not necessarily an obstacle to more sustainable food selections – environmentally and from a health point of view. The researchers have also found that when shifting toward a more sustainable and healthier diet, it is important to consider the different motives of everyday food selections among different population groups. For example, a good price-quality ratio is an important motive in all income and education groups.

Maijaliisa Erkkola, Professor of Nutrition at the University of Helsinki, hopes that as many S Group co-op members as possible will make their purchase data available to the researchers and respond to the electronic survey used to collect important background data to support the study.

“The new research material enables interesting and socially significant research frames, such as examining the influences of the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation among different population groups,” Erkkola says.

The lead researchers of this multidisciplinary study are Jaakko Nevalainen, Professor of Biostatistics at Tampere University, Maijaliisa Erkkola and Mikael Fogelholm, Professors of Nutrition at the University of Helsinki, and Hannu Saarijärvi, Professor of Marketing at Tampere University. A cross-disciplinary group of other researchers have also joined the project to innovate the utilisation of research data.

The Research Council of Finland has granted LoCard funding for its most recent stage in the period of 2022–2025. The research material to be used is the new co-op member data that will be collected this autumn.

In the study’s outcomes, the focus will be on the consumer behaviour of different population groups. However, no individual households can be identified from the results. The researchers will process personal data in a way that they cannot be linked to specific individuals. The LoCard research project has received a favourable statement from the Research Ethics Committee in the Humanities and Social and Behavioural Sciences at the University of Helsinki.

Further information:

Professor Maijaliisa Erkkola, University of Helsinki, maijaliisa.erkkola [at], +358 50 416 0389

Professor Jaakko Nevalainen, Tampere University, jaakko.nevalainen(at), +358 50 318 7272

Sampo Päällysaho, SVP Groceries, S Group, sampo.paallysaho [at], +358 107 680 655

Nina Elomaa, Senior Vice President, Sustainability, S Group, nina.elomaa [at], +358 10 768 0803