Industry Voices

Retailers should remove junk food from checkout aisles

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Almy is senior nutrition policy counsel at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

In an age when people struggle with obesity and diabetes, promoting impulse purchases of candy and soda in the checkout aisle is irresponsible and unethical.

No one resolves on New Year’s to eat more candy, drink more soda, or gain more weight. It’s the opposite. Many shoppers deliberately ignore candy, soda, and other junk foods in the center of the store. Then those items are thrust upon them at checkout.

Retailers know proximity to a food can trigger consumption. Google recently displayed dried figs and pistachios and hid M&M’s (still freely available in opaque containers) in its offices. As a result, employees ate 3 million fewer calories.

Marketing magazines, batteries or bottled water at checkout has no negative health effect. Unlike candy and soda, those products don’t exacerbate the most pressing public health challenges of our time.

Candy, chips and sugar drinks contribute to obesity, ranking among the top 25 sources of calories in Americans’ diets. Obesity costs more than $190 billion annually, is responsible for nearly one in five deaths, and leads to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other debilitating and life-shortening diseases.

Given the magnitude and devastating nature of obesity, retailers must end the practice of marketing soda, candy and other junk foods at checkout.

Instead, supermarkets should offer non-food items or healthy foods at checkout. Across the country, there are many retailers that offer at least one healthy checkout aisle in their stores. Store managers report that these aisles can be financially successful. In the United Kingdom, two grocery chains have eliminated candy from all checkout aisles.


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All shoppers benefit from healthy checkout. One analysis found that the average American woman could lose four pounds per year by not consuming food from checkout. And healthy checkout gives parents an opportunity to say “yes” to their children.

It’s time for American supermarkets to get rid of junk food, and instead offer healthier options at checkout.

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Discuss this Blog Entry 4

on Jul 28, 2014

It's my impression, both as a shopper and as a vendor representative, that supermarkets offer an increasing array of better-for-you products all the time - no doubt driven by customer demand. Let the market drive changes in the checkout aisle, not well meaning but wrong headed notions that we should legislate private behavior. If a supermarket chain decides to eliminate candy from the checkout aisle and is successful, other chains will follow.

Ducie Minich (not verified)
on Jul 29, 2014

As an overweight person I can understand your concern. From a free enterprise format, however, I think the supermarkets have a right to display their products anywhere they please. After all they're in the business of selling food (good for us or bad). It is our responsibility to exercise discipline and judgement as to what we buy.

Tamara Piety (not verified)
on Jul 29, 2014

This article is about corporate responsibility. The question is, should anything go when it comes to the market? Marketers have been studying consumer behavior for decades to intentionally make it more difficult to exercise willpower. There are probably hundreds of persuasion attempts aimed at the average consumer every day that have been fine-tuned by professionals in mind sciences to hook consumers. And the best research suggests that resisting all these persuasion attempts drains cognitive resources available to resist temptation. Life is hard enough already. No one is suggesting that candy should not be sold or should be illegal. The claim is that this sort of display, a display that has been intentionally structured to overcome people's commitments to better eating, is unethical from a business perspective. I think that is right.

Thomas M. Robert (not verified)
on Aug 10, 2014

The author doesn't understand the basic business concept. It is not bout political gamesmanship, it is about making money. The customer drives the retail business, not some P.C. hack at the D.N.C.. Unless the author desires for the government to takeover the retail sector, I suggest it be left alone. Someone needs to generate the wealth in this country for the government to tax. Consumers shouldn't have their whole lives regulated either.

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