Sweet! The ban on unhealthy snacks at shop tills checks out
It appears removing snacks from checkouts significantly reduces the quantity sold
Cape Town mother Andiswa Mesatywa confesses that one of the hardest things she faces when she and her two daughters go grocery shopping is the temptation of confectionery at the checkout tills.
“Most of the time when I shop, buying snacks is the last thing on my mind,” she said. “But when these sweet treats are in your face while you stand idle they can be difficult to resist.
“For me, it’s more impulsive buying. By the time I think about it, the chocolate wrapper is already open and I’m munching on it.”
Mesatywa said she often gave into pestering from her 11-year-old and nine-year-old girls for their favourite sweet treats, Kinder Joy and Tinkies.
But it’s not just her kids who go for the sweet stuff. “I’m often the culprit who will go for a bar of chocolate or a packet of sweets. I have a sweet tooth so I always fall for the temptation,” she said.
Mesatywa believes if snacks were placed far from till points, she would buy fewer of them, and she is probably right. A new study suggests removing unhealthy snacks from supermarket checkouts – as at least one major retailer in SA has done – significantly cuts the quantity sold.
Stores that made the change a few years ago sold about 17% fewer sweets, crisps and chocolates immediately after the policy was introduced, say researchers from Cambridge, Stirling and Newcastle universities in the UK. A year later the reduction was similar, at 15.5%.
Customers at supermarkets that removed snacks at checkouts were 76% less likely to buy and eat these snacks before arriving home.
In 2013, in response to calls from government and civil society to play a more active role in public health, six out of nine major UK retailers removed unhealthy foods from their checkouts. In SA, Woolworths followed suit.
The new study, published in PLOS Medicine, suggests how and where retailers display food might have an impact on consumers’ eating habits.
The study – the first to look at the effectiveness of a voluntary withdrawal of confectionery at till points – says that, internationally, food sold at checkouts is unhealthy.
Lead researcher Katrine Ejlerskov, from the Centre for Diet and Activity Research at Cambridge, says the study showed supermarket-led activities can be an important way to improve public health.
“Our findings suggest that checkout food policies may be one method to help decrease some purchases of less healthy foods. Data on the effect of such policies on total diet would allow us to understand their potential for improving population health,” Ejlerskov says.
Mesatywa agrees that displaying unhealthy food less prominently may do the trick. “It’s weird, I know, but I find it easy to go past unhealthy snacks on the shelves inside the store,” she says.
“There is something about them when they are at the exit point. Sometimes I shop when I’m too hungry, and I find it easier to grab stuff by the till and eat on the go than when I’m inside the shop.”