/ Food & Drink, Health, Shopping

Should retailers do more to promote healthier food?

Trolley in supermarket aisle

It can sometimes be difficult keeping to a healthy diet – and our latest research shows that the odds are too often stacked against you when it comes to supermarket promotions.

It’s well known that eating healthily isn’t always easy and the cost of it can be off-putting too, so it’s a shame to see that our latest research has found the majority of supermarket promotions are on less healthy foods, tempting people to make less healthy choices.

Let’s chew the fat over less healthy supermarket offers…

Fewer healthy offers

When we surveyed over 2,000 people nearly a third told us they find it difficult to eat healthily, as they think healthier food is more expensive than less healthy food. And according to the respondents, the most popular way to make healthy eating easier would be increasing supermarket promotions on healthier foods.

But when we monitored promotions in the main supermarkets, using data from price-tracking website mySupermarket, we found that there were more promotions on less healthy foods than healthy foods.

Some product categories particularly stood out. For example, over the three-month period we investigated (April to June this year), we found that confectionery was overall more likely to be on promotion than fresh fruit or vegetables.

And seven in 10 soft drinks that would fall under the higher sugar band category (>8% sugar) of the government’s proposed sugar tax were also on promotion.

Temptation at the tills

We also looked at what was being promoted at the checkout. Our supporters and fieldworkers did a spot check in a range of stores and found that, while some supermarkets have cleaned up their act, sweets and unhealthy snacks are still positioned to tempt you in some stores – and some supermarkets are failing to live up to their policies to end this practice.

What was particularly shocking was how it has become quite common to promote sweets at the checkouts in a wider range of stores – including some toy shops.

Promotions play a part

The fact is two thirds of the population are now overweight or obese. But it’s particularly concerning that a third of 10-11 year olds and a fifth of 4-5 year olds are.

There’s no simple way to tackle this, but it would certainly help if retailers took their role more seriously and helped by ensuring that promotions aren’t part of the problem, so that people aren’t encouraged to make unhealthy food choices.

We want retailers to include more healthier options in their price promotions and remove less healthy foods from their checkouts. The government’s Childhood Obesity Strategy is long overdue, but still it’s essential that it clamps down on irresponsible promotions.

We’ll be tracking supermarket practices over the coming months to help ensure they shift to a healthier balance – and help more people to do the same.

Can you help us? Have you spotted any promotions on less-than-healthy foods recently? Or have you noticed any great offers on healthy products?


Oh woe is me! My life is so hard I must treat myself!
Never say I must control myself! I am always the victim!
( for those who don’t know the above is sarcasm )

Oh ###! people get a grip. Its a fact of life. Life is not fair.
I am sick of people doing what ever they want, then blaming others for it.
Its freedom of choice they choose to eat it and if I want to choose to eat
something, it is my choice. Last I checked we live in a free country… don’t we?

What makes me angry is I don’t choose to eat sweets or sugary drinks every
day but now I must pay more in tax because other people have no self control.

Hey Sue Davies, how about a campaign for public self responsibility?

We go to the Supermarket every day and the Supermarkets BOGOF is always on the bad foods or you very rarely get it on fresh foods only if it’s near it’s sell by date, so they do not help you have a great diet as you have a limited budget it’s very hard.

Louise says:
5 August 2016

For goodness sakes grow up and make up your own minds not to buy things that are bad for you! The supermarkets aren’t torturing you to make you buy crisps and sweets – you can make that decision for yourselves. It is not the responsibility of someone else to regulate your addictions.

And you can always say “no” to a child who is making demands. I wish more people would try it.

A general debate on taking personal responsibility for actions might be interesting.

We were taught nutrition at school sixty odd years ago, we were also taught how to combine the foods we ate for the correct nutrition each day and how to cook it properly. I didn’t give my child sweet snacks and drinks it was a battle to stop my Mother doing so; she didn’t have that problem with me as most food was rationed when I was a child. I shop once or twice a month at the abbatoir, and they do have offers; since we can’t get an allotment I call in the greengrocers or the local market as and when and my milkman supplies milk, eggs, cream and yogurt when I need it(all quality products). I should have kept an article I read in the press some months ago which said a french study on microwaves showed that they destroyed 75% of vitamins; if you don’t get the nutrition, your body asks for more food to try and find it. I like sweets but supermarkets are irresponsible with where they place them and it’s all to do with profit.

All cooking methods destroy vitamins to some extent and different studies have provided very different results regarding microwave cooking. In my parents’ generation it was common to boil vegetables for far longer than necessary, which would certainly decrease the vitamin content.

If you don’t eat enough food you will feel hungry but I’m not aware that our bodies can identify that they have a vitamin deficiency. Is there scientific evidence that supports this hypothesis?


Does rickets or the other symptoms of vitamin deficiencies make a person feel hungry?

By the time rickets has manifested the damage has been done.

Agreed, but what I am trying to find out is whether there is any evidence that we want to eat more if our diet is deficient in one or more vitamins, as intimated by A Holmes.

I don’t suppose there are any indicators of vitamin deficiency that would auto-suggest a dietary adjustment. A Holmes said that “if you don’t get the nutrition, your body asks for more food to try and find it” which is a fair simplification, and the same applies to energy, but they are short term fixes for a temporary problem. Vitamin deficiency takes longer to become apparent and even then might not be perceptible to the subject; it might also be accompanied by over-eating of the wrong foods and the person feels satisfied even though their condition is deteriorating. Correcting the composition of foodstuffs is the strategic and surest way of remedying the problem as personal choice will not, on its own, rectify the diet.

Yes – I was only being facetious with my comment.

Actually, Ian, I thought it was a fair point since rickets is making a comeback. It used to be closely associated with malnutrition due to insufficient intake of food, but today’s problems are different with too much food being consumed and mostly of the wrong type leading to obesity and possibly, in some cases, to bone deformation due to the vitamin deficiency and the overweight. While I feel that adults can make their own choices on what and how much to eat [although I don’t necessarily like the consequences for the nation and the NHS], children and young people are entitled to some protection from the commercial forces and prevalent ignorance about a healthy diet.

In her introduction, Sue says that two thirds of the population are now overweight or obese and the situation is getting worse. I don’t think it is a viable option to carry on ignoring the problem to appease those who value their own freedom of choice more than the health of the nation. I never expected the ban on smoking in public places to be successful, but it shows what can be achieved.

On the way back from a reunion with friends from university days I stopped at a motorway service area for a break. While drinking coffee I saw this Convo and explored what was on offer at the service area. In addition to the usual fried food outlet and shelves of confectionery there was a food-only Marks & Spencer. I bought a sandwich but was amazed how much confectionery was on offer near the tills and elsewhere. Normally I take my own food for when I break a journey.

“Appease those who value freedom of choice”? We live in a democracy where we can take responsibility for our actions, not a dictatorship where we are told what to do. I’d like to keep it that way and educate people how to look after their health.

The NHS say “The term ‘obese’ describes a person who’s very overweight, with a lot of body fat.
It’s a common problem in the UK that’s estimated to affect around one in every four adults and around one in every five children aged 10 to 11.”

It might be that instead of spending vast sums on the Olympics and professional sports people we could use the money to encourage younger people in particular to get off their bottoms, put down their electronic gadgets, and do some exercise. We need facilities to do that, and they need to be affordable, not high priced commercial gyms and tennis clubs. Oh, and schools need to provide real exercise that makes you sweat and breath harder as part of the curriculum.

Education has its limitations. Without cooperation, little will be learned. I expect that most people who are obese are very well aware that eating too much and exercising too little are the reasons.

Peer pressure has a lot to do with the way that many young people go out to get drunk. Eating out with others has become a more regular activity than it used to be and portion sizes have increased.

Many cannot easily quit smoking even though they know it is harmful and others drink more than is good for them. If marketing and selling of food was controlled to cut down on obesity, I would support it.

I agree about the encouraging people to take exercise.

Banning smoking in public places was designed to protect others (passive smoking), not the smoker. I am not sure what the equivalent would be for obesity. Maybe banning all fattening foods in restaurants, takeaways and any other public places? Maybe banning alcohol in pubs (very fattening)? I really don’t see what sensible action could be taken, much as I would like to see obesity reduced (literally). Perhaps we could price clothes by size?

I have an acquaintance who is so fat he cannot fit in some cars, eats butter by the slice, cleans up all unused sauces in restaurants, buys cakes by the dozen – and he is a very intelligent person who knows he has a problem. For many there is no doubt a mental element to this. A group of obese people no doubt need special help for something that is a compulsion. But if others are happy in their own skins, should we impose our views on them? Should we penalise them if they allow their children to become obese? Is it any different to dealing with drug abusers, alcoholics, irresponsible gamblers…….and all the other frailties we seem to suffer from.?

Pricing clothes by size already exists in places. The idea of weighing airline passengers with their luggage has been mooted. There are plenty more ideas out there, including above.

A general debate on taking personal responsibility for actions would be interesting, as suggested by malcolm r, as well as a debate about to what extent genes and/or mental illness affect propensity to gamble, drink or eat too much, and a debate about whether allowing one’s children to become obese could be considered child abuse.

We all have to take a degree of responsibility, but we are also all affected by our genes, our cultures, our backgrounds, our lives past and current, our personalities, by our surroundings, including supermarkets, and so on. Understanding this is the beginning. Rejecting one’s own responsibility outright, particular circumstances excepted, and blaming temptation is a cop out. But condemning those who don’t appear to be able to resist temptation is supercilious nonsense. Retailers also have to accept a degree of responsibility.

The next question is, what do we do about it? Yes, encouragement, education, therapy, but also take away temptation where possible: vending machines throughout hospitals (they’re not just in EDs, they’re everywhere) shockingly selling nutritional rubbish, sugary stuff by supermarket tills, reducing portions sizes in cinemas, etc. Take away temptation and keep at it.

Hide sweets like we hide tobacco now? (I’m joking… or am I?)

One way of keeping away from those temptations is to make sure that you don’t go into the supermarkets feeling hungry. These unhealthy sweet,fatty foods will be a very big temptation. Discipline and education is needed and I feel the supermarkets need to play a big part in promoting healthier, natural foods rather than snacks and slimming group products.Healthy foods aren’t expensive and more promotion of this is needed along with healthy recipes and clearer food labelling.

Isobel says:
6 August 2016

I have to say that I noticed that at Aldi and Lidl checkouts now there are only healthy snacks on offer. Health bars, dried fruit packs, sugar-free gum and a variety of small bottles of water. It is terrible to say that I don’t pick any of these up but I used to pick up a couple of bars of fudge when they were on offer. I suppose that although I am not picking up healthy snacks I am not now buying fudge bars which must be better for me.

The supermarkets have honed the strategies they employ to part you from your cash over many years. The layout of the supermarket itself is a tribute to the disciplines of Psychology and Sociology. Most supermarkets greet you with an array of Vegetables and Fruits. When the shopper has assuaged their conscience by choosing ‘healthy’ options, the aisles then imperceptibly modulate their tone, moving the shopper towards the less healthy dairy products, and sneakily interspersing ‘special offers’ – more often than not on somewhat less healthy options. Finally, the cunning planners lure you into the hedonistic world of soft, sugar-laden drinks and even (perish the thought!) cakes and ready meals ghetto, ensuring your eventual escape from which will see you pass by alluringly stacked shelves of alcoholic beverages (by which time you need a drink, anyway…) and ultimately confronting you at the checkout with the splendour of the massed sweet arrays. By that stage your spirit has been broken, resistance is futile and you award yourself perhaps a tiny titbit of something nice, as a consolation for having survived the horrors of the Supermarket Somme. But nothing you bought is by chance…

I agree with the way supermarkets encourage adults and children to give in to temptation with the goods at the checkout, but there is another problem I noticed last week while shopping, there is now a special cereal section in some supermarkets with a sign above that says ” Children’s Cereals “. it does not take any time to realise that these contain too much sugar and some are covered in chocolate. These organisations are not concerned with health ony profits !!!!!!!!!!!!!

Half the cereals aisle is full of sugar- and chocolate-coated rubbish these days all at premium prices. One of the side effects of austerity I suppose.

catherine burgon says:
6 August 2016

buying something thats bad for you costs pennies , buying a fresh fruit selection and healthy meals from scratch costs the earth …

I agree that price does play its part – but quite a lot of nice fruit and veg is not all that expensive.

People today are using the wrong type of carbohydrates as a means of reducing the stress and anxiety in their lives. There are more people taking antidepressants than ever. In 2012, 50 million prescriptions were issued by GP’s because of the long waiting lists for counselling. The highest numbers being in The North, Blackpool topping the list at 1 in 5.3 followed by Redcar, 1 in 6 and Barnsley, 1 in 6.3 adults.

Antidepressants are known to produce weight gain by up to 10lbs by increasing serotonin production (95% of which is contained in the stomach) which makes you feel more hungry. Eating the right kind of carbohydrate however, such as low fat cereals, rice etc can increase serotonin levels naturally which can act as a mild antidepressant, as does exercise, but carbohydrates containing fats (which slow down digestion) such as chocolate, cake, ice cream biscuits etc and therefore the production of serotonin, making you feel more depressed when you are more likely to want to eat more of the wrong foods through craving rather than hunger, increasing the depression even further, culminating in the likelihood of addiction and overweight.

It’s a chicken and egg situation really. Are supermarkets aware of the science behind junk food and exploit it, or is it a case of them responding to consumer demand?

Chicken and egg is an interesting argument (forget campylobacter for once). When I was in design and manufacture we felt than unless a product was produced the customer would not know it was possible, so would not demand it. Would we demand LED light sources for our homes with no notion they were possible?

I think the product comes first, and if successful it is followed by demand. So the manufacturers are the initial source of any problem of unhealthy food, the retailers next for stocking it, but unless customers choose to buy it, it will fail.

We have the final say – if we choose to. Consumers’ problems seem to be not buying such products, but consuming them to excess, whether crisps, fatty beefburgers or alcohol. Some think we should be regulated and prevented from exercising our free choice, as if we are some part of an organisation that a few who “know better” wish to dominate with their own ideas.

My preference is that people should be given information to help them make their own choices. We are all individuals with the right to live our lives the way we choose, but to accept the consequences of our own actions.

Considerable information has been provided and most food comes with information on nutrition. I believe that McDonalds and other well known fast food outlets provide nutritional information too. But the number of overweight and obese people is growing and it is high time that we controlled the worst excesses of the food industry.

Free choice seems intuitively right but the statistics show that this is not working. When the house is on fire it is better to take prompt action than tell people they need a smoke detector in each room and to test it regularly.

Telling an alcoholic to cut down on their drinking does not always work. Some manage to get their weight under control but many don’t.

I think Beryl is right about the effect of stress. Ignoring it is not a good idea, nor is turning to alcohol or excessive or unhealthy food consumption.

Walkers have now switched to using sunseed oil in their crisps, a typical 35g bag contains two and a half teaspoons of oil and nearly a fifth of children eat two packs a day according to The British Heart Foundation. A pack a day habit is equal to a child drinking 5 litres of oil every year.

Malcolm I am a great believer in freedom of choice but food choice has it roots in what a parent feeds a child on from a very early stage in its life. As Wavechange makes the point old habits die hard and can too easily become addictions which are extremely hard to break once established.

The damage to ones health from over indulging whether it be through eating or drinking to excess or the making the wrong choices generates a huge strain on the NHS, and in that respect I would suggest maybe we all have a duty of care to make sensible choices that first benefit not only ones own health but also that of your nearest and dearest and ultimately society as a whole.

“If all else fails read the instructions” has relevance. All new houses are fitting with interlinked smoke alarms but most people believe their house will not catch fire – and it doesn’t. Certainly substance abuse, whether alcohol, smoking, drugs, food, sugar, is something that becomes wired into your brain and is difficult to reverse. However most people do not abuse things in this way, and the penalty for banning some things is denying the rights of the vast majority who do not abuse them. I like a small glass of wine, cream cakes, occasional beefburger, chips, bag of crisps, moderate consumption of soft drinks, and would be very miffed if someone tried to prevent me from buying them “for my own good”.

Beryl, I totally agree that we have a duty of care, particularly to our offspring. I believe the majority do adopt a sensible approach to this without being over-prescriptive, especially to their children. My problem comes with how you deal, if you have the right, with those who are not so responsible as if we have some superior right to control their habits.

We could ban alcohol – for some it is disastrous; smoking – for many it damages their health; dangerous activites – apart from self-harm it imposes a strain on A&E. I just do not know how you intrude into other people’s lives when so many activities, done irresponsibly in our eyes, can cause them harm.

The whole point Malcolm being it is your choice to ignore the now well established and proven advice as to what you consider is acceptable to your own lifestyle, as long as you are aware of the risks involved through over indulging in the wrong kind of food and that the damage to ones health can occasionally be irreversible.

Yes, Beryl, I agree. Given the correct information, it is your choice how to behave. Sometimes though, the “right information” is not always “right” as we have seen with advice on foods.

Malcolm, maybe the right information about the right kind of food is the preferred option to the wrong information about the wrong kind of food. Your GP would know the answer to that little poser, but I hesitate to delve any further into what is essentially a private matter.

sarita says:
6 August 2016

not having read all the comments –
I personally feel that –

the temptations should be removed, more so at the check outs in order;

– to stop testing children, young people and vulnerable adults – especially when they are feeling bored and tired towards the end of their shopping;

– telling them ‘no’ constantly is psychologically harmfull to both adults and children – not to forget the health risks
– a lot of adults who are unwell are also unable to stop themselves.

I was recently shopping for household items in a store which did not sell food as part of it’s normal remit. However, at the check out bay I encountered a vast array of bars of chocolate and sweets, mostly at child friendly height!

When buying a newspaper at some national stores I am offered an additional option of a ‘special offer’ of chocolate.

Multi-screen cinema’s frequently oblige one to fight one’s way through vast arrays of chocolates, sweets, sugar loaded drinks and salty snacks, before reaching the ticket vending facility.

…and why do the very same multi-screen cinemas sell such huge buckets of sweetened pop corn and even provide plastic hoops beside the seats to hold them and fizzy, sugar loaded, drinks?

…and precede the film with advertisements for unhealthy food…?

Cinema’s of this sort should carry a health warning. ‘Visiting these premises could seriously damage you health.’

As someone recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, I’m quite shocked at the levels of sugar in food. I’ve always endeavoured to eat as healthily as possible, but things like cereals (and supposedly ‘healthy’ cereal bars and ‘energy’ drinks/snacks, etc) are packed with them!

I would like to be able to buy mis-shape organic fruit and veg.
It would be healthy for us and the environment and it would help to eliminate food waste at source.
What about only allowing mis -shape organic fruit and veg as quick snack food at check outs.
This would reverse the decades of dominance of sweet/fat laden tempting junk.

Penny SIMPSON says:
20 August 2016

There are also too many fast food type restaurants and take-away places & promotional flyers coming from pizza/kebab/chinese/middle eastern food type restaurants & concessions . I appreciate that immigrants to this country need to make a living & often they set up & staff small fast food shops/concessions but this has created a culture of fast food to be bought on the street or on the quick, (or just send out for something that will get delivered quickly) –seemingly cheap & good value but in the long run, expensive and without even having to show any government guidelines as to fat/carbo/salt/sugar content. ‘Street fast food ” culture is as much to blame, or even more so, than the supermarkets who are at least trying to a) label food correctly and b) have offers/promotions to help those on a budget, assuming people shopping sensibly in first place.