The temptation to buy unhealthy drinks and snacks is always high in any store. New legislation goes some way to mitigate this as Beth Bradshaw explains.
How many times have you picked up a bar of chocolate whilst waiting at the checkout? Or a pack of muffins whilst entering the store? Or even just a packet of crisps whilst cruising down the middle aisle, minding your own business? I can certainly put my hands up and say I have, several times, without having any intention of purchasing these items when entering the store. Sound familiar?
Well, luckily, in most stores now, this won’t be a problem for those of us looking to avoid temptations. That’s because as of 1st October 2022, new legislation has finally come into force.1 This dictates where medium- and large-sized retailers can place foods instore that are defined as ‘less healthy’ by the Nutrient Profiling Model and within scope of food categories in the Sugar Reduction Programme.
The legislation will apply to food and drinks such as sugary soft drinks, crisps, meat snacks, chips, cakes, muffins, sugary cereals, chocolate, sweets, and more. In summary, the key focus is on foods that the Eatwell Guide recommends we consume less often and in small amounts.
These foods can no longer be situated in areas including the checkout, designated queuing areas, end of aisles and store entrances. The legislation also applies to the online food shopping environment too. Ever noticed a pop-up window whilst you are doing your online shop with offers and deals on less healthy options? The new legislation means that less healthy food and drink will no longer be visible as pop-ups, or when you are on a website checkout page.
The policy was brought about following a consultation in 2018, and the official decision on implementation was announced in 2020 as part of the National Obesity Strategy.2
WHY WAS THE LEGISLATION BROUGHT IN?
We know that where items are placed instore can play a key role in consumer decisions when it comes to purchases. It may seem small, but businesses strategically place certain products at key locations, such as the checkout, end of aisles and store entrances, to drive sales.3 These places are convenient and eye-catching locations that can grab our attention very easily.
The problem is that, more often than not, the food and drink found in these prominent locations are not very healthy. In fact, around 48% of foods and drinks located in prominent areas of popular supermarkets are high in sugar, according to a survey by the Obesity Health Alliance.4
Further evidence suggests that end-of-aisle promotions can lead to an increase in sales of 51.7% for carbonated drinks.5
This is all part of the government’s effort to make healthier choices the easier choice, by improving our food environment, which is so often dominated by cues to consume less healthy options.
WHAT IMPACT WILL IT HAVE ON HEALTHY WEIGHT?
Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet when it comes to effectively reducing levels of overweight and obesity, and this policy alone cannot solve the problem. However, what it will do is start to help take junk food out of the spotlight and make it easier for us to make healthier choices when shopping. If we compare the average supermarket layout in relation to the Eat Well Guide, we know that a good proportion of aisle space in stores is dedicated to selling an array of less healthy products. This policy will help to rebalance this in favour of healthier options being more visible.
This doesn’t mean treats, such as sweets and chocolate, won’t be available in stores – it simply means they will only be available in their designated aisle. So, unless you actively go looking for them, you shouldn’t typically see them.
There is some evidence to suggest that removing less healthy options from these locations can lead to a reduction in portions of confectionery being sold in supermarkets. Since implementation, it has already been reported that the policy is having an impact on confectionery in particular. One major confectionery supplier has seen its October sales volume drop by 1,191,503 units (3.98%) from 2021 to 2022.6
WHERE NEXT FOR HEALTHY WEIGHT POLICY?
As mentioned, there is no silver bullet to reducing obesity and the potential of the location promotions legislation could be better realised by a few factors:
- The implementation of this policy is a concern. Reports suggest that local authorities have been given just over £500 each year to understand the new rules, conduct inspections via trading standards and take formal enforcement action if needed. Trading standards teams already have significant responsibilities, and under resourcing the implementation of location promotions legislation could result in poor adherence.7 Local authorities need to be properly funded to monitor compliance.
- Bolstering the policy by addressing other drivers of overweight and obesity, such as advertising on TV and social media, is key. The newly formed government needs to reaffirm its commitment to delivering on its other promises laid out in the National Obesity Strategy, following rumours this could be weakened or scrapped.8
- It would be remiss not to mention the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. The current situation is placing significant pressures on households to access a healthy diet. However, now more than ever we need to prioritise the health of our communities and make sure the healthier choice is the easier choice.
Location promotions are just one marketing tactic industry uses to position less healthy options in the spotlight – there is an array of other methods too, such as packaging promotions,9 child-friendly characters10 and price promotions,11 not to mention advertising on TV and social media12 that influences us to purchase less healthy options. We need a comprehensive approach to limit these influences in order to have a positive impact on our food environment and on the health of our population.
Beth Molly Bradshaw, ANutr
Project Manager, Food Active, Health Equalities Group
Beth is a Registered Associate Nutritionist and, since 2017,
has been Project Manager with Food Active, a healthy weight charity,
delivered by the Health Equalities Group.
Beth has a passion for the wider determinants of health and campaigning for
an environment that is more conducive to healthy lifestyles and behaviours.
Email: [email protected]
- HM Government (2022). Restricting promotions of products high in fat, sugar or salt by location and by volume price. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/restricting-promotions-of-products-high-in-fat-sugar-or-salt-by-location-and-by-volume-price
- HM Government (2020). National Obesity Strategy. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/tackling-obesity-government-strategy
- The Scottish Government (2018). Reducing Health Harms of Foods High in Fat, Sugar and Salt. Consultation Paper. Available at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/reducing-health-harms-foods-high-fat-sugar-salt/
- Obesity Health Alliance (2018). Out of Place. Available at: https://obesityhealthalliance.org.uk/2018/11/17/press-release-check-families-bombarded-supermarket-sweep-sugary-promotions-weekly-shop/
- Martin L, Bauld L and Angus K (2017). Rapid evidence review: The impact of promotions on high fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) food and drink on consumer purchasing and consumption behaviour and the effectiveness of retail environment interventions. Edinburgh: NHS Health Scotland
- Grocery Gazette (2022). Confectionery sales down as HFSS legislation comes into force. Available at: https://www.grocerygazette.co.uk/2022/11/02/confectionery-sales-drop-hfss/
- The Grocer (2022). Trading standards warns not to expect rigorous enforcement of HFSS location promotions. Available at: https://www.thegrocer.co.uk/stores/trading-standards-warns-not-to-expect-rigorous-and-ongoing-enforcement-of-hfss/672153.article
- The Guardian (2022). Liz Truss could scrap anti-obesity strategy in a drive to cut red tape. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/sep/13/liz-truss-could-scrap-anti-obesity-strategy-in-drive-to-cut-red-tape?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other
- Food Active (2022). Exploring on-pack promotions on less healthy food and drink. Available at: https://foodactive.org.uk/exploring-on-pack-promotions-on-less-healthy-food-and-drink-a-new-report-from-food-active/
- Food Active (2020). Pester power or parent power? Available at: https://foodactive.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Cartoon-Characters-Report-July-2020.pdf
- Food Active (2019). Price promotions on less healthy food and drink. Available at: https://foodactive.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Food-Active-Price-Promotions-on-Less-Healthy-Food-and-Drink.pdf
- Food Active (2018). Junk food marketing to children: a study of parents’ perceptions. Available at: https://foodactive.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Junk-Food-Marketing-to-Children-a-study-of-parents-perceptions.pdf