How Sainsbury’s increased sales by using ‘pester power’ for good

Date : 22 February 2021

Hannah Skeggs

Nutrition & Scientific Affairs Manager

Using licenced characters and price promotions to incentivise healthy choices can have a significant impact on sales.

Although 86% of UK shoppers claim to be actively trying to eat more healthily, very few of us manage to consume our 5 A Day. For that reason, interventions that improve fruit consumption, whilst boosting sales are a clear victory.

Before COVID-19 impacted the family shop (2019), Sainsburys, in partnership with Disney, gave away collectable cards to families for every £10 spent across its 1,400 UK stores. These Disney Hero themed cards could be traded and swapped with other children attempting to complete the set.  Some cards had special effects - sparkling, glowing in the dark, or revealing a secret picture beneath a rub-away surface – making them desirable to kids.

Behaviour science levers of incentivisation and influence come into play here. Children were incentivised by the physical cards and Disney characters, but further influenced by their friendship groups to trade and engage with the intervention – a powerful combination.

 Click here to learn more about behaviour levers.

The power of a familiar face

The power of licenced characters isn’t new news. Regulations have previously sought to reduce the use of licenced characters on unhealthy foods and research by Sustain into pester power shows that 91% of parents agree that using family-friendly characters results in children asking for a product. 68% of parents also feel that the current use of cartoons on typically unhealthy foods makes it more difficult to feed their children a healthy diet1.

Interestingly a study by paediatricians in the US found that branding food packages with licensed characters substantially influences not only young children's choices, but also their taste preferences. In trials, kids aged 4-6 believed they significantly preferred the taste of foods that had popular cartoon characters on the packaging, compared with the exact same foods without characters2.

On top of this, there is a body of evidence that price promotions successfully increase sales and that’s not surprising when our Appetite for Change research found the biggest barrier to eating healthy, sustainable diets was cost3.

Can Heroes promote health?

To capitalise on this opportunity and help encourage healthy eating, Sainsbury’s created a nationwide intervention within the Heroes Campaign that would nudge families to buy certain healthier products, which were also sold on price promotion. For example, an extra pack of cards was up for grabs when customers purchased children’s fruit like Sainsbury’s Mini Easy Peelers, mini bananas, mini apples or mini pears.

The impact was significant with a 72% rise in sales of lower sugar beans and 387% rise in sales of fruit recorded over the 6-week intervention period when compared to the previous year.

Unfortunately, researchers at University of Oxford found no significant sustained increase in sales of lower sugar beans or fruit in the weeks after the intervention (sales +17% on baseline), suggesting that the behaviour change was only effective whilst licenced characters and pricing promotions were in action, so further opportunities for research lie in sustaining this sales uplift and creating long term behaviour shifts. This type of intervention could also be broadened to further product categories and targeted at different socioeconomic groups.

It’s also hard to differentiate the impact of the licenced characters from those of price promotions. There is no arguing that these levers were effective when used together but further research could add value to explore the impact of each lever independently.

For retail trials, collaboration and credibility is key

For this trial, Sainsbury’s worked with the British Nutrition Foundation to determine which products should be promoted to target lower income groups. As a result, they focused on increasing sales of healthier food categories like fruit and vegetables as well as healthier options within categories such as low sugar baked beans and cereals.

In addition to the partnership with Disney, Sainsbury’s worked closely with their suppliers and the intervention was independently analysed by Oxford University as part of the Consumer Goods Forum Collaboration for Healthier Lives4.

This is a great example of incentivisation and how Sainsbury’s have thought about both the shopper – (the parents in this case) and the consumer – (the children).

To explore how a sustained shift could be achieved opportunities could be to extend the duration of the trial beyond the 6 weeks tested, or consider including shorter, repeated promotions to see if this creates lasting change.

Is your business interested in collaborating on healthier and more sustainable diets?

IGD has established a project group of key manufacturers and retailers to help test and share the most effective solutions to drive behaviour change. This will help us to take positive action, and shift consumers towards healthier and more sustainable diets both now, and in the future.

Get in touch to learn more: [email protected]


Sustain, 2020. Pester Power or Parent Power? Available:
Roberto, 2010. Influence of Licensed Characters on Children's Taste and Snack Preferences. Available:'s_Taste_and_Snack_Preferences
IGD. 2020. Appetite for Change. Available:
Impact on Urban Health & CGF, in partnership with evaluators at the University of Oxford, 2020. Can supermarkets turn the tide on obesity? Available: