Junk Food at Checkout Aisles Promotes Overeating, Says CSPI Report

CSPI Calls on Non-Food Stores Like Bed Bath & Beyond to Drop Food at Checkout Entirely


The presence of junk food at checkout aisles, in both supermarkets and non-food stores, induces unplanned purchases and excess calorie consumption that undermine consumers’ health, according to a new report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The nonprofit food watchdog group says that public health should be considered in shaping the retail food environment, and that non-food stores such as Bed Bath & Beyond should get out of the junk food business altogether.

Placing junk food at checkout is a powerful form of marketing for which food manufacturers pay retailers handsomely, according to the report. In addition, putting candy at children’s eye level creates unhealthy norms for snacks and incites conflict with parents. Adults also are susceptible to impulse buys, as decision fatigue results after choosing among the 30,000 to 50,000 items in the average supermarket, according to CSPI. About $5.5 billion of foods, drinks, and other products are sold from checkout aisles at supermarkets alone.

“Foisting candy, chips, soda, and other sugary drinks upon customers at the end of a shopping trip exploits human psychology and basic biology, making shoppers vulnerable to consuming additional calories, added sugars, and saturated fat that put their health at risk,” said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan.

The majority of foods and beverages at checkout are candy, gum, energy bars, chips, cookies, soda, and other sugary drinks, according to research done by CSPI and others. Another survey found that shoppers who bought candy and soda at checkout are often the same people who deliberately avoid such products elsewhere in the store. 

Today CSPI is sending letters to the top retailers to rethink their checkout aisles and is asking its members to send emails and Tweets urging Bed Bath & Beyond to stop selling candy at checkout. In the United Kingdom, three major retailers, Lidl, Tesco, and Aldi, have each eliminated candy from checkout aisles.

“There’s no good reason that a company that sells towels and bath mats needs to bombard its customers with a junk food display at the cash register,” said CSPI senior nutrition policy counsel Jessica Almy, lead author of the report. “Companies like Bed Bath & Beyond need to recognize that they have their own role to play when it comes to preventing diabetes, obesity, and other diet-related health problems. Right now, they’re making those problems worse.”

CSPI’s report recommends that supermarkets, big box stores, convenience stores, and other food retailers adopt nutrition standards for foods and beverages placed at checkout. The group says that food manufacturers should not voluntarily use placement fees to induce retailers to put unhealthy foods and drinks at checkout, and that health departments, hospitals, and other institutions should adopt healthy checkout policies for properties they own or manage.

Support for Temptation at Checkout was provided by Voices for Healthy Kids, a joint project of the American Heart Association and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. 

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