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Supermarkets told to Chuck snacks off the checkout!

22nd October, 2003

A new Food Commission campaign will call for supermarkets, grocery stores and pharmacies to stop displaying snacks at the checkouts, and to put such products out of temptation's reach.

At the end of a shopping trip, children often nag their parents for the sweets, chocolates, crisps and soft drinks displayed at the checkout. Such tempting displays are deliberately placed where customers are a 'captive market' as they queue up to pay, activating pester power and increasing sales of snack products.

Such displays may also tempt adults to buy and eat snacks that they would not normally choose, adding a hefty dose of calories, fat and/or sugar to their diet. Retailers and grocery stores recognise that most confectionery purchases are made 'on impulse' and therefore ensure that products are placed exactly where that impulse is likely to be acted upon.

One major chocolate manufacturer, Nestlé, estimates that if every supermarket displayed chocolate at their checkouts, total chocolate sales would increase by 15 million bars per year in the UK.

Following numerous complaints from members of the Food Commission's Parents Jury, the Food Commission has launched a new campaign to Chuck Snacks off the Checkout!

Ten years ago, a similar campaign was run by community dietitian Iona Lidington, focusing on the damage caused to teeth by frequent consumption of sugary confectionery. During that campaign, Tesco, Sainsbury and Safeway all agreed to stop displaying sweets at their checkouts.

But since that time, new types of store have opened, new products have been launched, marketing has become ever more sophisticated, and many stores are now displaying soft drinks and crisps as well as chocolate and confectionery at or near the checkouts. In a new development, such products are now also displayed in pharmacies, where families also regularly shop.

One Mars bar at the checkout can add around 280 kcalories, 43g of sugar and 6.4g of saturated fat to your daily intake. For a woman such a 'treat' will provide 15% of her recommended maximum intake of energy. For a 10-year-old boy it would provide nearly three quarters of his maximum recommended intake of sugar and about a third of his maximum daily recommended intake of saturated fat.*

Not only do our teeth suffer, but unhealthy doses of calories, fat and sugar are also showing up around our waistlines.

Sales figures indicate that children are eating more snack foods. Between 1998 and 2002 sales of products aimed at or popular with children increased by over 25% - from £336m to £424m (Mintel).

Removing calorie-dense, sugary, fatty and salty snacks from checkouts is just one small measure that retailers to take to help address these public health problems.

M&S CounterIf you have trouble finding a checkout in Marks & Spencer just look for the confectionery - you'll usually find a cashier behind it!

What supermarkets say

Recognising that family conflict is often caused by snacks displayed at the checkout, some supermarkets keep their checkouts snack-free as a matter of policy.

However, many supermarkets continue to display snacks at their checkouts, on aisle-ends near where people queue, in dump-bins beside the tills, or even in specially designed mini-fridges.

The Food Commission wrote to the major supermarkets, requesting details of their policy about stocking snacks at the checkout. Here are some of the responses we received:

Aldi
'At Aldi each of our stores only has four checkouts. Two of these tills are used for general merchandise such as camera film and videos. The other two tills are used for different products throughout the year some of which include snacks. Please not however it is unusual for Aldi to display sweets and chcolates at the till points.'

ASDA
ASDA, the worst offender in our survey of supermarkets stocking snacks at the checkout (see league table below) has so far made 'no comment'.

Booths Supermarkets
Booths Supermarkets stated that 'we are not one of those supermarkets who specifically stock products low down, within children's reach.' It also stated that, 'Where possible, we would rather sell magazines than sweets. In our Ulverston store, for example, every other checkout is sweet free.'

Budgens
Budgens told us that they operate 'small supermarkets and convenience stores' and that they 'simply do not have the space to give to stands whether used for sweets or other impulse lines. We like to keep our checkout areas free of clutter and ensure a clear passage for our customers'. But our survey (see league table below) found only one in four checkouts was snack-free.

Co-op
The Co-op told us that it 'prohibits the display of child-targeted products which are high in fat, sugar or salt at our traditional-style supermarket checkouts were children may exert 'pester power' whilst waiting for parents to queue and pay for grocery.' However, the final paragraph of their letter stated that they had 'recently acquired a large number of stores and that operationally, conformance with all our policies in these stores may take some time to achieve.'

Iceland
'...we recognise that some customers may wish to avoid confectionery and to this end we provide sweet-free checkouts to ensure we give choice where our stores offer these items.'

Marks & Spencer
Marks & Spencer said that as part of its 'major Customer Care Initiative all M&S stores have a minimum of 20% till points with non-confectionery items … These till points are clearly signposted to assist customer choice.' The retailer also stated that because it is committed to the High Street. 'shelf space is always at a premium' so 'confectionery fits well in the slip units alongside the till points. This allows more room elsewhere to show more bulky ranges such as produce and bread.'

Morrisons
Morrisons told us that it offers 'a range of products from our checkouts, based on customer demand and convenience. We take a responsible approach and where sweets and snacks are available it will be a very small selection only, merchandised in specific area and does not include soft drinks.'

Safeway
Safeway responded to say that, 'Our policy is that generally we do not stock snacks and sweets at the checkout. The main exception to this policy is that at certain times of the year (e.g. Christmas, Easter, Mother's Day), one in four of our checkouts may stock products, including snacks and sweets, that relate to that promotion.' Safeway stressed that 'only one in four of our checkouts would stock these products giving parents the opportunity to choose one of the many other checkouts that stock other items such as magazines, films or batteries.'

Somerfield
Somerfield is 'working towards a policy where only one in three checkouts will stock sweets or chocolate. We are aware of the concerns of parents and are currently reviewing all our stores and looking at our merchandising plans to try and bring this plan in to practice over the next year.'

Spar
Because most Spar shops are owned by independent operators 'Decisions on which products stores stock and where they sell them from, are taken by individual store owners. SPAR UK Ltd and it's member wholesalers, are not in a position to dictate to independent retailer a policy on the sale of snacks at the checkout.'

Waitrose
Waitrose has a commendable checkout policy: 'We do not merchandise items which could be considered an impulse purchase such as sweets and chocolates at our checkouts. As well as providing an uncluttered environment for shoppers, we believe customers appreciate the fact we do not distract their children at checkouts, which could lead to so-called pester power.'

What manufacturers say

The food industry often argues that food marketing is only carried out to encourage brand switching rather than increasing category sales (and therefore the amount eaten). A similar argument was used by tobacco manufacturers for years to defend their freedom to advertise.

The quotes below show that the way food is marketed and displayed in shops are acknowledged by the industry as important ways to encourage us to buy more sugary and fatty products by increasing total category sales.

Cadbury
Cadbury has also stated, in a brochure advising retailers how to position products to maximise sales, 'Key brands should occupy key positions: the availability of heavily-advertised lines will trigger extra sales.'

Ferrero
Ferrero, which manufacturers Kinder Bueno chocolate and Kinder Eggs, reported that confectionery sales dipped in 2002 (probably due to a surge in popularity of mobile phones among young people) and said that it would respond with 'heavyweight marketing support, including regular TV exposure, to all our confectionery brands to ensure that they are constantly top of consumers' minds.' In addition, it advised retailers to 'Stock best sellers; stock heavily advertised products; and stock and create impactful displays.'

Haribo
Haribo is the best-selling confectioner that specialises in bagged sweets for children. Haribo's director has commented that 'We believe strongly in the value of promotions in driving sales. We operate in what essentially is an impulse-driven market, so obviously the more ways we have of getting consumers to notice our products the better.'

Kraft Foods
Kraft Foods, makers of such delights as Dairylea Lunchables, says that it '…believes that promotions are key to driving confectionery sales as they entice consumers to try a product, which is either new to them, or one which they may not have tasted recently,' and that 'Retailers can benefit from secondary siting to catch the shopper's attention. Gondola ends, dump-bins and counter placements all drive incremental sales.'

nestle adNestlé Rowntree
Nestlé Rowntree recently stated that 'with 70% of confectionery bought on impulse retailers should aim to put temptation directly within the shopper's reach.' This advert appeared in 2003 in the industry magazine, The Grocer. In a special marketing feature, Nestlé's Sales Communications Manager explained that the company's sales promotions, such as displaying chocolate bars right next to popular magazines at the checkout, 'aim to unlock an extra £1 million of profit for retailers, by tempting 25% of women to purchase confectionery with a copy of Take a Break. This would mean and extra 15m chocolate bars sold across the year.'

Masterfoods (Mars)
Masterfoods (Mars) warned retailers in 1995 that removal of sweets on the checkout would lead to a 30% fall in confectionery sales. In 2002, the company stated that it had created promotions specifically designed to increase the amount of money a customer spends in a shop, including advising retailers that, 'By organising the layout so that consumer favourites are sited in the 'hot sport' sales areas, regardless of manufacturer, retailers could take their share of a potential increase in £210m extra confectionery sales.'

Masterfoods' Trader Relations Manager boasted that the confectionery market is worth a huge £5.8bn a year, which equates to every adult eating confectionery every working day of the week and amazingly, over the past ten years it has grown 66%. Apparently just seeing and stopping at a confectionery display will encourage 80% of shoppers to make a purchase.

Wrigley trade adWrigley
Whilst many Wrigley's chewing gum products do not contain sugar, this cartoon advertisement from a trade magazine illustrates how displays can be used to maximise profit. Many of the sugary gums and bubble gums, those most attractive to younger children, are placed low down in the display, and the packets are arranged in boxes displayed to make it easy to pick up the attractively packaged gum. The advertisement states that 20% of confectionery profit can be generated by a Wrigley display such as this.

The supermarket checkout survey

The Food Commission has carried out surveys of several London supermarkets. We found that ASDA is the worst offender, with an average of 2.4 separate displays per till.

Displays included specially designed fridges with sugary soft drinks, displays of Pringles crisps and promotional displays of KitKat Kubes together with a plethora of other confectionery, stocked close to the ground where children could easily reach them.

At the other end of the scale, Waitrose was a good example of better practice, with no snacks or soft drinks displayed at its checkouts.

Ten years ago, Tesco and Sainsbury were declared sweet-free. However, in 2003 they seem to have different policies depending on the type of store. Tesco had 68% snack-free checkouts in its larger stores, compared to only 23% in its smaller Tesco Metro Stores.

Sainsbury had 58% snack-free checkouts in its larger stores, compared to no snack-free checkouts at all in its Sainsbury Local convenience stores.

Marks & Spencer confectionery displays specifically target children with products stocked at children's eye level, many having popular cartoon characters such as the Fimbles or Tweenies on the packaging. Many parents have complained to us that this causes conflict between themselves and their children.

The best and the worst of supermarket checkouts- Oct 03
The checkouts at Waitrose are snack free, putting the supermarket well ahead of the rest of the field. ASDA brings up the rear with a wide range of unhealthy snacks, soft drinks and sweets placed within easy reach of children at the checkouts.
Confectionery %
Crisps and bagged snacks %
Soft drinks %
Stocked within children's reach %
% of snack free checkouts
Average number of displays per till
1
Waitrose
0
0
0
0
100
0
2
Tesco
18
14
0
100
68
0.3
3
Lidl
40
0
0
50
60
0.4
4
Sainsbury
19
0
32
60
58
0.4
5
Tesco Metro
77
0
0
100
23
0.8
6
Iceland
20
20
0
100
40
1.3
7
Co-op
71
0
0
100
29
1.4
8
Budgens
67
58
8
100
25
1.5
9
Fresh & Wild
100
0
0
0
0
1
10
Sainsbury Local
100
0
0
100
0
1
11
Europa
100
0
0
100
0
1
12
Marks & Spencer
100
0
0
100
0
1
13
Morrisons
100
0
0
100
0
1.3
14
Somerfield
100
33
67
100
0
2.3
15
Safeway
100
24
64
100
0
2.3
16
ASDA
70
36
36
100
0
2.4

 

How you can help

It is very important that supermarkets and pharmacies hear what people think about the display of snacks and soft drinks at the checkout.

If you would like to have your say, please visit the Parents Jury website where you can find more information and a comment sheet which you can download and send to our freepost address. Anyone can take part. We will be collecting people's opinions and making sure the supermarkets know exactly what you think.

If you are a member of an organisation which you think could become a campaign supporter or are able to publicise the campaign by distributing leaflets or by including an article in a newsletter or on a website, please contact Annie Seeley on chucksnacks@foodcomm.org.uk or write to The Food Commission (CSOC), Freepost 7564, London N1 9BR or phone on 020 7837 2250.

* Based on government dietary recommendations for adults. There are currently no guidelines for sugar or saturated fat consumption for children.

The following pages may also be of interest

  • Campaigns: Parents Jury
    The Parents Jury was an independent jury of over 1,300 parents who came together to improve the quality of children's foods and drinks in the UK. The Jury was co-ordinated by The Food Commission.
  • Press: Supermarkets told: Chuck snacks off the checkout!
    Major supermarkets are being told by parents not to display sweets, crisps and soft drinks at the checkouts. The practice deliberately targets children with junk food, they say.