By Becca Stacey, Policy and Communications Assistant at Obesity Health Alliance
Whether it’s buying a product to get another one free, or grabbing an unplanned purchase when waiting to pay, consumers’ decisions are constantly influenced by price and place promotions.
It can be hard to make healthy decisions when promotions for unhealthy food and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) are more common than for healthy products. Research conducted by Which? found that over half of the price promotions offered by Asda, Morrisons, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose over a three month period were for less healthy foods. What’s more, a Sunday Mirror survey conducted in 2017 showed that supermarkets who had previously committed to removing sweets and chocolate from checkouts were breaking their pledge by continuing to promote these items at their tills.
Food manufacturers pay retailers to have their products promoted at key locations throughout a store, including entrances, aisle or ‘gondola’ ends, and self and trolley checkouts. They will also pay to have their products promoted as part of various multi-buy promotions including Buy One Get One Frees, Buy One Get One Half Off, three items for the price of two, and ‘X for £Y’. This is because they know that promotions encourage people to buy more of their product, generating increased revenue.
The fact that promotions encourage people to buy more is demonstrated by research that shows that price promotions increase the total amount of household food and drink purchased in Britain by 22%.
Given how influential promotions are at increasing the number of purchases made, it is important that food retailers act responsibly to ensure that healthier products are what are promoted, in order to help reduce the consumption of unhealthy food and drink.
Public opinion suggests that change would be welcome. A survey conducted by Which? has shown that the top action people wanted from supermarkets was for there to be more healthier choices promoted to make it easier for people to choose healthier food.
In terms of the action taken, 82% of 1299 adults in England voted in favour of supermarkets taking voluntary action to promote healthier options, and 66% voted in support of the government passing laws to make sure supermarkets promote healthier options.
Change is coming?
The Government has recognised the influence that both price and place promotions have on purchasing. In chapter 2 of their childhood obesity plan, they announced an intention to ban multi-buy promotions on unhealthy food and drinks along with restricting the areas that unhealthy products can be promoted in. A consultation on these measures is due before the end of the year.
This is a welcome move from Government. To reduce levels of childhood obesity all sectors of society must play their part and this is one way retailers can help us buy and eat healthier choices.
 3rd April 2018. Prepared by YouGov plc on behalf of Cancer Research UK.