Restrictions on the placement of unhealthy food and drinks in prominent locations of supermarkets urgently needed, say health campaigners
New analysis by the Obesity Health Alliance (OHA) reveals that families are bombarded by promotions for sugary food and drinks placed in convenient or busy locations in shops, which can encourage shoppers to buy more of these products.
The OHA visited five supermarkets – Aldi, Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco – to survey the types of food and drinks products that are promoted in prominent locations in-store.
The findings reveal:
- 43% of all food and drink products located in prominent areas, such as store entrances, checkout areas and aisle ends were for sugary foods and drinks (i.e products included in Public Health England’s sugar reduction programme due to their significant contribution to children’s sugar consumption or drinks subject to the soft drinks industry levy.)
- Three of the five supermarkets surveyed had sugary food and drinks such as chocolate and sweets positioned at checkout areas:
- Asda – 73% of food and drink products promoted at checkouts were sugary foods including sweets and chocolate bars.
- Morrisons – 47% of food and drink products promoted at checkouts were sugary foods including sweets and chocolate bars.
- Aldi – 30% of food and drink products promoted at checkouts were sugary foods including flapjack and popcorn.
- The use of moveable free-standing display units (FSDUs) to promote sugary products was particularly common. 79% of products included in FSDUs were sugary foods.
- On the day of the survey there was considerable variation between supermarkets, e.g. Aldi had food placed in just one of the high profile locations surveyed and Tesco and Sainsburys did not have food promoted at checkout areas.
- Less than 1% of food and drink products located in high profile areas were fruit or vegetable products.
The visibility of products in shops influences which products consumers choose to buy. Evidence shows that when products are placed in convenient and eye-catching locations, such as at shop entrances, checkouts or aisle ends, sales of these products increase.
Promotions for unhealthy food and drinks encourage shoppers to buy more and consume excess sugar and calories. Latest figures reveal that more than one in three children has a weight classified as overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school aged 11, which increases their risk of developing conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart and liver disease in later life. What’s more, children aged four to ten are eating twice as much free sugar as the recommended daily limit – a key driver behind these rising levels of childhood obesity as well as tooth decay.
In August 2018, the OHA surveyed the food and drinks products placed at four highly visible locations in one outlet of each of the five biggest supermarket chains in the UK. The areas surveyed were store entrances, trolley and self-checkout areas, aisle ends and FSDUs.
Products were included in the analysis if they contribute significantly to children’s sugar intake based on the following criteria:
- Products included in Public Health England’s (PHE) sugar reduction programme
- Drinks eligible for the soft drinks industry levy (SDIL)
The OHA also analysed products considered to contribute significantly to children’s calorie intake, based on those proposed for inclusion in PHE’s calorie reduction programme.
Overall, a worrying 70% of all food and drink products placed in prominent locations were products that contribute significantly to children’s sugar and calorie intake, i.e. food and drinks included in either of PHE’s sugar or calorie reduction programmes or eligible for the SDIL.
Commenting on the survey, Caroline Cerny, Obesity Health Alliance Lead said:
“We know that where products are located in shops influences how likely we are to purchase them. Sugary treats prominently displayed at checkouts or store entrances will be highly tempting to anyone, but especially children who will then likely pester their parents to buy them. It’s no small wonder that people ‘go wild in the aisles’ for location-based promotions!
With more than one in three children leaving primary school with a weight classified as overweight or obese, it is clear that action is needed to create healthier environments for families across the country. Our survey shows that some supermarkets seem to be taking positive steps to limit where they promote unhealthy food, but we need a level playing field. That’s why the OHA is calling on Government to restrict the placement of unhealthy food and drinks in high profile locations in supermarkets to help families make healthier choices when shopping”.
In chapter 2 of ‘Childhood obesity – a plan for action’ published earlier this year, the UK Government acknowledged the contribution that unhealthy promotions make to rising childhood obesity rates by announcing its intention to ban the promotion of unhealthy food and drink by location. The OHA welcomes this, and look forward to responding to the Government’s forthcoming consultation on this issue.
‘Out of Place – the extent of unhealthy foods in prime locations in supermarkets’ – report by the Obesity Health Alliance is attached
For further information, please contact the OHA press office:
Margaret Donnellan: firstname.lastname@example.org / 0207 092 6005 / 07837 973 413
Caroline Cerny: Caroline.Cerny@ukhealthforum.org.uk / 07939 551 151
Notes to editor:
- The OHA surveyed the food and drinks products placed at prominent locations in one outlet of five different supermarket chains with the biggest UK market share.[i]
- The areas surveyed were store entrances, trolley and self checkout areas and aisle ends (facing the central aisle only) and free standing display units (FSDUs).
- Data was collected during two weeks in August 2018. This survey provides a snapshot of place based promotions seen on a single visit and does not provide a comprehensive review of each retailer’s approach to promotions. See appendix 1 of the report for more information on methodology.
- 70% of all food and drink products placed in prominent locations were food and drinks included in either of PHE’s sugar or calorie reduction programmes or eligible for the SDIL, therefore products that significantly contribute to children’s sugar and calorie intake.
- There was considerable variation between the different supermarkets included in the survey:
|Supermarket||No. of food and drink products included in the survey||No. of food and drink products included in sugar reduction programme||% of food and drink products included in sugar reduction programme||No. of food and drink products included in calorie reduction programme||% of food and drink products included in calorie reduction programme||No. of drinks products subject to SDIL||% of drinks products subject to SDIL||Totals|
|Aldi (only data from checkout area – no food promotion at other locations)||27||8||30%||7||26%||0||0%||56%|
 At the time of the analysis the categories for the calorie reduction programme had not been finalised. Analysis is based on categories proposed by PHE in October 2018.