/ Food & Drink, Health, Shopping

Should supermarkets keep treats away from tills?

How often are you tempted to pop a sugary treat in your basket while you queue to pay for shopping? Supermarkets have been criticised for pushing unhealthy snacks at the tills – but can we really blame them?

Today, the Children’s Food Campaign (CFC) released a report that named Asda, Morrisons and Iceland as the worst offending supermarkets for displaying sweets and chocolates at their tills, but they are by no means the only supermarkets.

The CFC feels that this sort of activity undermines the efforts of parents who want to feed their children a healthy diet, and I totally agree. But I also believe that it undermines the efforts of anyone who wants to follow a healthy diet; maybe even more so as we’re able to exercise ‘free will’.

Why don’t we simply say ‘no’?

Many supermarkets were found displaying their sweets, chocolate and fizzy drinks at children’s eye level, which seems designed to tempt them. We’ve all seen it happen before – a parent is trying to unload the trolley, pay for the shopping, pack it up again and keep an eye on the kids when the little nippers start pestering for sweets. In that situation, it’s easy to see why many parents give in for the sake of a quiet life.

But what about those of us who want to feed ourselves a healthy diet? My local Tesco Metro has recently built an Easter egg mountain around its till area, selling left-over seasonal chocolate at bargain prices. As a long-term Weight Watcher, the temptation for me to indulge can be overwhelming, especially when I’m faced with these unavoidable marketing techniques every day.

Whether I’m weak-willed or I simply face a constant battle with my weight like many, the placement of sweets at the checkout can feel like an invitation to failure. This is especially true at WH Smith – where our own Nikki Whiteman finds she’s constantly pestered by till staff offering her an enormous bar of chocolate for ‘just one pound’ with any of her purchases.

Is it the supermarkets’ problem?

Most of the supermarkets involved had promised to cut down on the promotion of unhealthy snacks at the tills over a decade ago. Clearly this hasn’t happened, but can we really blame them?

I’d love to see supermarkets taking steps toward promoting healthier diets – but if their research suggests it isn’t profitable, there’s little motivation for them to do it.

As supermarkets grow vast and become an integral part of our lives, should we expect them to exercise a certain level of social responsibility and stop this kind of marketing? Or are we wrong to expect a business to put our welfare over profits?

Should supermarkets keep treats away from tills?

Yes - supermarkets shouldn't push unhealthy snacks (64%, 232 Votes)

No - we can make our own decisions (23%, 82 Votes)

I don't mind either way (14%, 50 Votes)

Total Voters: 364

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I think that retailers SHOULD take more responsibility towards aiming unhealthy and tempting foods at particular demographics, but supermarkets sell food to make money and if there is an easy buck to be made by flogging sweets to kids (via their parents back pockets) then I can’t see them stopping this kind of practice. Having worked in, or closely with, food retailers all my life, I often feel this topic is raised every few years as a PR stunt, with a few of them moving treats away from till areas to look socially responsible while the others go back to merchandising heavily at till points, under the guise of convenience.

You could also argue that retailers shouldn’t care about where they merchandise their stock and that it is the responsibility of the individual/parent as to what gets purchased, but that is an even bigger discussing topic.

Malcolm Clark says:
26 April 2012

The point about raising this issue again now is partly to do with the government’s public health Responsibility Deal. Most of the major retailers have signed up to it, and a new calorie reduction pledge has just been launched. How does the supermarkets’ claims of being responsible square with pushing those extra and unplanned calories into our shopping baskets?

The only time I can remember grabbing something from a till display in a supermarket was when a sales assistant helpfully told me that I could have a £5 discount voucher if I spent another 20 pence.

I have never given these displays much thought, but then I don’t have children to cope with.

If chocolate was kept at the top of a 3 metre ladder I would still buy it!

Seriously, it is up to me to decide and control my purchases. I don’t buy from till displays and I seldom see others doing so. I doubt the argumentitive conversations at the till between parents and children is any different from those held by the main sweet display. Children need to understand what ‘no’ means so, difficult though it is at the time, I see no need for supermarkets to change this practice.

Also, do we really know what is an unhealthy snack? I thought the occasional treat (and the fact we call them treats is interesting) is good for you. There are so many reports saying ‘this particular food is bad for you’ followed by another outlining it’s benefits.

Sophie Gilbert says:
26 April 2012

Our supermarkets, which are on this earth, adored/abhored (delete as applicable) be your names, sell us today our daily bread and… lead us not into temptation! For yours is the growing kingdom and the increasing power. Not sure about the glory…

Well said Ms Gilbert. I also think they have a moral duty to deliver us from evil.

and wait at the checkout
for ever and ever

Thanks both for giving me a laugh. I hope you realise that making fun of the Lord’s Prayer ruins our chances of going to Heaven, and we might meet at a self-service checkout in Tesco. 🙂

Quentin Rubens says:
26 April 2012

Isn’t there supposed to be voluntary code that supermarkets signed up to? It’s not just supermarkets. I find WH Smith the worst!

Malcolm Clark says:
26 April 2012

I had a debate on radio this morning about the parental responsibility / self-control argument. Of course, that is part of the answer. But it’s not easy at the end of a shop, when you and your child’s resistance is at its lowest, to just say ‘no’. Moreover, parents and children are bombarded throughout their day with marketing messages promoting sweets, chocolate and other unhealthy snacks. In store, the packaging of these products is often appealing to children; the promotional offers appealing to parents’ pockets; and the positioning appealing to a quick grab whilst queuing at the checkout. It all stacks up to make the task of choosing healthy options that much harder. Why can’t stores make the shopping experience that little bit less stressful and that little bit more supportive of healthy eating?

And as for non-food retailers (Top Shop, Superdrug, HMV, WHSmith) who place sweets and chocs by their tills, how that is anything other than a cynical marketing practice to boost their profits? “Nobody goes to a clothes store to buy a chocolate bar” as one campaign supporter emailed me yesterday.

Agreed 100%.
The placement of batteries, phone cards etc… fall into the items I missed category, and can be justified, and thus have a place by the till
The placement of sweets [why do we still call them treats?] are aimed 4 square at the kiddie market. In todays health concious society where school tuck shops are closed down for promoting unhealthy eating, there is no place for this type of unhealthy snack in this position.
Once again, it’s profits first…

Jess says:
26 April 2012

I’m perfectly capable of saying ‘no’ to my children when they nag for sweets and pretty much always do. However, I don’t see why I should have to have that argument with them. I don’t have to walk down the sweetie aisle, but I do have to queue up at the till, and in my local small supermarkets my children have to queue for several minutes with a great pile of calorific junk right at their face level.

My friend had an unfortunate experience when her daughter pestered for sweets at the checkout. Despite the fact my friend said no to her daughter, the customer behind her took it upon herself to buy some sweets for her making a sly remark along the lines of ‘if your mum won’t, I will’. My friend was really cross – and understandably so – as she had said no because she didn’t want her to have them, or feel she just got something because she demanded it.

I’m not a mother but have to confess I have to wrestle at least three bags of sweets off my boyfriend by the time we’ve gone through the queue – hence why we shop online!

Jaz says:
27 April 2012

The placement of items at the tills serve a purpose for the supermarket to try and get that wee bit extra money out of your pockets and into the tills. You have to remember that the large supermarket chains have spent a lot of time and money on researching the psychological aspects of shopping in their stores, to try and maximise their profits.

A light hearted article highlighting the techniques they use is available at: http://www.cracked.com/article_18805_5-ways-stores-use-science-to-trick-you-into-buying-crap.html

Robint says:
24 May 2012

Couldn’t agree more – its morally disgusting to place such items at kids’ eye level – done deliberately of course. In fact the whole issue of kids food must be addressed. IMHO potato crisps and cola are amongst the very worst possible items for promoting tooth decay. Its the lethal combination of sugar and salt that makes it so bad.

Some one said “shop on line” – what a good idea. Away from all that pressure and temptation polluting kids’ minds

I never had sweets when i was a kid but we did have bread and dripping and marrow bone soup, bubble and squeak, stewed tripe in milk, and bread and butter pudding – what a treat.

You say that sugar and salt causes tooth decay, Robint. We have been warned about sugars many times but this is the first time I have seen salt mentioned. What is the evidence that salt encourages tooth decay?

Bread and dripping? I suppose that this was before the advice to avoid eating a lot of saturated fat. 🙂

Jorge says:
20 August 2012

It makes business sense to put high-margin, tempting items by the tills. Will power (from parents to say no or people to stop themselves) is the only way of regulating what we eat, no one else should do it for us.

Scotty says:
22 March 2013

It’s bad enough having sweets displayed near the check-out,but SCOTMID STORE has Their checkout Staff asking every single Shopper “WOULD YOU LIKE SOME CHOCOLATE ” every time They pay for Their groceries…If We want chocolate,We’ll add it to our basket,We don’t need it pushed on Us surely?