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Chuck snacks off the Checkout! 2005

25th January 2005

Checkouts still failing the junk test

Our latest survey of supermarkets has found Morrisons to be the worst chain for promoting junk food at the checkouts, knocking ASDA out of its long held first place in our league table. The supermarket failed to provide any snack-free checkouts for their customers.

Snack free checkout league table
% of snack free checkouts
Marks and Spencer

The surveys were carried out by supporters of the Parents Jury's Chuck Snacks off the Checkout! campaign. In total over 3,500 checkouts were surveyed in more than 300 stores over the last year. The campaign has also received hundreds of messages of support and calls for supermarkets to chuck snacks off the checkout.

Campaign supporters include Primary Care Trusts, Oral Health Promoters, nursery schools and the British Dental Association.

The campaign's objectives were also backed by the Food Standards Agency in 2004 who said they will encourage retailers to: 'remove snack products from checkouts and, where ever practicable, replace them with healthier options such as fruit.'

Following the campaign launch in autumn 2003, ASDA announced that it would trial checkouts with healthier snacks, or snack free checkouts, in four of its stores. In 2004 a trade magazine reported that 'Asda has yet to find a workable formula for merchandising fruit and healthy snacks at its checkouts... the biggest problem in the four-store trial was keeping the fresh fruit replenished.'

When the Food Commission contacted ASDA to check on the situation (as the need to replenish might indicate that the fresh fruit was very popular) we were told only that they had decided not to go ahead with apples or grapes for food safety reasons.

ASDA were still trialing displays of bananas but were worried about bruising, and were trialing cherry tomatoes, tangerines, bags of dried fruit and carrots.

Somerfield have also announced that in response to a Chuck Snacks campaign on the Isle of Wight that they too be 'trialing' snack free checkouts in their larger stores.

Sainsbury's have also recently initiated a policy 'to remove sweets from checkouts'.

Marks and Spencer are currently languishing 4th from bottom in the league table. They told the Food Commission that they 'ran a pilot offering fruit at the checkout in five stores and sales had been very disappointing in January 2004'.

Many campaign supporters cited Marks & Spencer as one of the worse offenders because many of the sweets and chocolates on sale at their checkouts use cartoon characters to grab the attention of young children.

The data from our checkout survey has also helped to inform recent research conducted by the Food Commission on behalf of the National Consumer Council. This research led to a final report Rating Retailers for Health: How supermarkets can affect your chances of a healthy diet , which scored the retailers against a new Health Responsibility Index.

Overall, more 'up-market' supermarkets gained a higher Health Responsibility Index rating while those with a greater proportion of lower-income shoppers scored less well.

The Co-op remained an exception - with a higher rating than its customer demographic profile would predict.

From these findings, the National Consumer Council suggests that retailers' practices may be contributing to or exacerbating the inequalities that exist between the diet and health of more affluent and less affluent consumers.

Useful resources

If you would like to support the campaign to stop promotion of junk food to children, please sign up to the Children's Food Bill. Visit

The Rating Retailers report is available free of charge at: or call: 020 7730 3469.

The Campaign

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 launched a new campaign to Chuck Snacks off the Checkout! in 2003.

Over 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. (see Campaign history )

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.

Just one 500 ml bottle of Coca Cola contains about 10 teaspoons of sugar, which is almost all of an adult woman's maximum recommended intake of added sugar for the day. 

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. And getting ambushed at the checkout doesn't just mean extra calories. A single, tempting packet of Walkers cheese and onion crisps will provide a three year old child with almost all of their recommended maximum intake of salt.

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).

Campaign update January 2004

Parent power urges retailers to curb pester power

The Parents Jury campaign Chuck Snacks off the Checkout! was launched in 2003 to highlight how retail displays affect what people buy and eat.

Parents report that snacks bought on impulse at the checkout add extra calories to a shopping basket, and can also cause conflict when children pester for products their parents would rather they did not eat.

The campaign has rapidly gained momentum, and is now supported by 12 public health organisations, including the British Dental Hygienists Association and the National Oral Health Promotion Group. Parents have submitted statements of concern about fatty, sugary and salty snacks displayed at supermarket checkouts - see the panel on the right for examples.

A sample of 100 of these statements has been sent to supermarket bosses, to challenge them to say what they intend to do.

Over 100 surveys of more than 1,800 checkouts have been carried out by supporters up and down the country. The findings show that ASDA has the most displays of unhealthy foods at checkouts, with an average 1.4 displays of products per checkout. So despite its plans to display fruit at some of its checkouts ASDA still has a very long way to go!

Safeway was also found to have confectionary displays at 88% of its checkouts, mostly within children's reach.

Let's hope Safeway takes action to remove these unhealthy temptations, especially in light of its own survey, published in January, that announced: 'Pester power is rife! 59% of parents are pestered for treats when out shopping with their children with chocolate and sweets getting the most requests.'

The surveys also revealed that confectionery at the checkout is common in unexpected places, such as in pharmacies and in Mothercare. Boots was also highlighted by surveyors, with an average of 1.2 displays of products per till.

Waitrose has retained its title as 'top of the league'. Surveyors found only one store in which confectionery was displayed at the end of the aisle near the tills. But in general, Waitrose continues to live up to its stated policy of protecting parents from pester power.

Supporters of the Chuck Snacks campaign
The Allergy Alliance
Healthy Eating on a Low Income Forum
Bolton Primary Care Trust
British Dental Hygienists Association
British Association for the Study of Community Dentistry
Camden Primary Care Trust
Consensus Action on Salt and Health
Health Education Trust
Hyperactive Children's Support Group
National Oral Health Promotion Group
Obesity Awareness and Solutions Trust
UK Public Health Association

What parents say

“Why don’t you try shopping with my children in your store and find out what pester power feels like from the sharp end!” Anon

“As if shopping with three children isn’t stressful enough. Surely you want to speed up your checkout process!” Mother of 2 from Edinburgh

“I hate shopping where there are snacks on the checkout. It does not make me buy them, but the trip always ends up with my daughter in tears (she’s three). I think Marks and Spencer are one of the worst offenders.”
Mother from Edinburgh

“Why can’t there be fruit/veg snacks as well? Teach people to make healthy choices.” Anon

“You’re putting profits before public health and wellbeing.” Anon

“Please could you put healthy snacks at the end of the aisle checkout. I’m quite happy to buy things like raisins or fresh fruit but don’t think it’s good for your store to hear my daughter screaming when I won’t buy her sweets …”
Mother from East London

“Do your bit to promote a healthier society – keep the junk food off the checkouts – please!”
Mother of 2 from East Lothian

“Working as part of a dental/nutrition team – these snacks make our roles considerably harder in promoting a healthy alternative.”

“As parents we are appalled by the way you display by your checkouts high fat, sugar, salt and additive laiden foods in an attempt to encourage children to ask parents to buy. This type of food is proven to adversely affect children’s health. We make a point of avoiding the worst offending shops or stores. Marks and Spencers being the worst locally. It does affect how and where mothers shop. SO STOP NOW.”
Mother of two from Sutton, Surrey

“Please help me in the difficult task of brining up my children, by not tempting them at the checkout and making shopping a battle every time!!”
Mother of three from Bristol

“It’s good for you and other healthy ranges are great. But what’s the point if we then stock up on sweets at the checkout. Come on supermarkets, get those sweets AWAY from the checkouts. Give us all a break!” Mother of two from St Albans

“I don’t want to spend money that I don’t have, on sweets for my kids, just to keep them quiet at the checkout. If the sweets weren’t there then the kids wouldn’t be making a fuss in the first place. Have a heart!”
Mother of one from Burnley

“Oh how I wish you were as good at actively encouraging my children to choose healthy snacks/drinks (eg, fruit and water) as you are at promoting unhealthy rubbish!”
Mother of two from Rotherham

“Please listen to your customers. Parents want healthy snacks for children. Show us you care about the health of our children as much as we do and chuck unhealthy snacks off the checkout!"
Mother of three from Cumbria

“Many mothers have no choice, but to bring children with them when they shop. This makes shopping hard enough – but when sweets are placed at the checkout when mother is busy with other things the child is bound to be tempted. This places extra strain and stresses on an already stressed mother. PLEASE REMOVE SWEETS FROM CHECKOUTS.”
Mother of three from Lancashire

“We don’t want this type of snack. Be creative! There are many ways of encouraging us to buy more and this doesn’t have to be focussed on sweets, etc. Put bananas or other fruit, raisins, etc out instead. We’ll buy it!” Anon

“It’s not fair to expect small children to sit in the trolley so tantalisingly near to sweets without reaching out for them. It’s just asking for tantrums is that really the atmosphere you want in your store?”
Mother from Oxford

“If it was your child at the checkout what would you prefer them to see and tempt them to eat: tasty fruit? Dried fruit? Bottled Water? –or chocolate, sweets or fizzy drinks that may damage teeth and make them hyper?” Anon

“Displaying unhealthy snacks at checkouts does not help parents who are trying to encourage their children to eat healthily – it also add an extra area of conflict to what might already be a fraught trip.” Anon