In these modern times, people have become more health conscious and try to maintain healthy eating habits. However, a person still has to step away from the temptation of making unhealthy purchases in the supermarket. Plenty of people have gone into stores shopping for one thing and have, somehow, walked out with a candy bar or a bag of chips in tow! These items, though never really on the shopping list, become harder to resist when they are positioned right at the checkout. Now, a new study has revealed that removal of sweets from checkout counters directly influences the amount of unhealthy purchases made by customers.
“Many snacks picked up at the checkout may be unplanned, impulse buys - and the options tend to be confectionary, chocolate or crisps,” says Dr Jean Adams from the Centre for Diet and Activity Research at the University of Cambridge. “Several supermarkets have now introduced policies to remove these items from their checkouts and we wanted to know if this had any impact on people’s purchasing choices.” Published in the journal PLOS Medicine, the study aimed to examine how unhealthy purchases at the store could be limited.
Generally, research shows that positioning of products at the checkout, or on the end of the aisles, increases their sales. When policies aimed at removing sweets and chips from checkouts are implemented in stores, there is a dramatic reduction in the amount of unhealthy foods purchased. To examine the effect that implementation of checkout food policies in stores has on shoppers’ purchasing habits, Dr Adams led a team of researchers, at the Universities of Cambridge, Stirling and Newcastle, who analysed data from the Kantar Worldpanel’s Consumer panel for food, beverages and household products.
The research team first looked at how purchases of less healthy common checkout foods brought home changed after implementation of checkout policies. Data from over 30,000 UK households from 12 months before to 12 months after implementation were used. They found that implementation of a checkout food policy was associated with an immediate 17% reduction in purchases. After a year, shoppers were still purchasing over 15% fewer of the items compared to when no policy was in place.
Researchers then looked at data from 7,500 shoppers who recorded food bought and eaten ‘on-the-go’ during 2016-17 from supermarkets with and without checkout food policies. Purchases made on-the-go are, often, impulsive and can perhaps be the result of children pestering their parents. Researchers found that shoppers made 76% fewer annual purchases of less healthy common checkout food items from stores with checkout food policies compared to those without.
“Our findings suggest that by removing sweets and crisps from the checkout, supermarkets can have a positive influence on the type of purchases their shoppers intake,” said Dr Katrine Ejlerskov, the lead author on the study. “This would be relatively simple intervention with the potential to encourage healthier eating. Many of these purchases may have been impulse buys, so if the shopper doesn’t pick up a chocolate bar at the till, it may be one less chocolate bar that they consume.” Dr Adams added, “It may seem obvious that removing unhealthy food options from the checkout would reduce the amount that people buy, but it is evidence such as this that helps build the case for government interventions to improve unhealthy behaviours.”
It is important to note that this study was not a randomised control trial and, as such, it was not possible to definitively say that changes in purchasing behaviour were due to checkout food policies. It is possible that stores that chose to have checkout food policies may have been different from those that did not. Furthermore, shoppers may have changed to purchasing larger packages from the same stores or similar products from stores that are not supermarkets.
Regardless, this study should serve as a good example for governments across the globe to implement such checkout policies in their respective countries.