/ Food & Drink

Upselling: does size really matter?

upsold coffee

Is it fair to upsell unhealthy food and drink at the tills? Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, joins us to call for a rethink on upselling…

How many of you have succumbed to the temptation of a larger coffee or supersize takeaway when suggested by the salesperson? I suspect that most of us have at one time or another, but what we don’t think about is how this ‘upselling’ might contribute to weight gain and ultimately our obesity crisis.

Upselling food and drink

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and Slimming World recently produced a report entitled ‘Size matters: the impact of upselling on weight gain’. Our report had significant media response because, for the first time, we showed the sheer scale of this sales tactic.

We found that more than three-quarters (78%) of the public experience upselling at least once in a typical week – one in three of us buy that larger coffee, upgrade to a bigger meal in a fast-food restaurant or buy chocolate at the till in a petrol station.

So why should we be concerned about this commonplace activity?

We’ve calculated that the average person who has been upsold will consume more than 17,000 extra calories a year, this is the equivalent of around five extra pounds in weight gain.

More worrying, is that young people aged 18-24 are most likely to experience upselling, consuming an extra 750 calories per week with the accumulated weight gain of 11lbs in a year.

This is a significant contributor to our obesity problem. Currently, two-thirds of the UK population is overweight or obese and obesity-related illness is predicted to cost the NHS £10bn by 2050. This is hugely costly for the individual, families and society.

This practice occurs at the point of sale and is not at the customer’s request. Many people will point to individual responsibility and having the willpower to just say ‘no’, but why can’t retailers upsell us a salad or an apple?

Right now, we are upsold food and drink high in fat, sugar and salt, why not offer ‘deals’ on healthy alternatives? At the moment, the upsell results in around 17% more money, but we receive 55% more calories.

Are you ever tempted to say yes to upsold fast food?

Not at all (64%, 103 Votes)

Hardly ever (20%, 33 Votes)

Only occasionally as a treat (11%, 18 Votes)

Yes all the time! (4%, 7 Votes)

Total Voters: 161

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Taking action

In my view, businesses need to take responsibility for this, but making consumers more aware of this apparent ‘value for money’ could make more of us pause next time we’re upsold.

We’re recommending that they should not train staff to sell unhealthy food, only upsell healthy food and drink, provide clear calorie information and not link staff pay to selling unhealthy food.

Businesses need to adhere to healthy principles to improve the public’s health, both individuals and business have their part to play in stemming the tide of weight gain and its negative effect on health and the health service.

This is a guest contribution by Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for Public Health. All views expressed here are Shirley’s own and not necessarily those also shared by Which?.

When was the last time you were upsold something? What would you rather you were upsold when buying an item of food or drink?


This comment was removed at the request of the user

Some will fall for any sort of thing they cannot think or decide for themselves they have to use told in some way what to do or buy etc.

I cannot recall any recent attempts to upsell food and drink, but I don’t frequent fast food outlets. I tend to associate upselling with car sales reps who are keen to part their customers with more of their money.

It’s not just in places where they serve food. Ready meals in supermarkets seem to be getting bigger. Even when I retuned from living in France 6 years ago I noticed that ready meal portions here were 33-50% bigger than in that country, and they seem to have grown since then. There’s also the matter of wine servings in restaurants. When I left the UK in 1995, the standard serving was 125 cc, i.e. a sixth of a bottle. Now it’s routinely 250 cc, a third of a bottle, unless you can get 175 cc, a quarter. Not good for the purse, health or public safety.

I can’t think of a single occasion when a salesperson has suggested a larger size than I asked for. You might get asked if you want something with that like fries, but it is easy enough to say no.

I thought I had ordered 3 Bramley cooking apples with my last online shopping and the delivery man turned up with a bag containing 2 kilograms, so it’s apple pie, apple crumble, stuffed baked apple or just plain stewed apple in honey for the next few weeks!

I have a penchant for a large single chocolate chip cookie which I used to buy as a treat from the local store, but now all you can find is 3 in a pack which fortunately I am able to resist as I am currently on a diet. There is always a supply of Cadburys milk tray at the check-out which I am offered at what you are supposed to assume are being sold at a reduced price, but again I am able to say “no thanks” to.

I never use ‘free’ vouchers when they arrive in the post as you usually end up buying and paying for more than you really need – a bit of a false economy, as is the 2 for the price of 1 offers. Another trick online companies use is, when they get wise to your individual tastes, they will send you an extra large voucher if they think you can afford to buy their more expensive items or, if you spend ‘X’ amount (usually large) you will receive a ‘free’ voucher for £11.

It’s all psychologically orientated nowadays, you need a strong willpower to survive whatever you buy and wherever you shop.