Irish NGO calls for sweet-free checkouts

32% of Irish consumers say they would be more likely to shop at stores where junk food at checkouts is banned

Irish NGO Safefood has called on supermarkets to make checkouts ‘sweet-free zones’ as part of its campaign to tackle childhood obesity.

In England retailers like Sainsbury’s and Tesco have already made moves to abolish these so called ‘guilt lanes’; Safefood’s latest campaign urges Irish retailers to replicate this change.

Safefood says unhealthy snacks at checkouts and queueing areas present unnecessary temptation for parents who may be subject to ‘pest power’ from their children. The group says supermarkets are an important partner in tackling an "obesogenic environment".

Retail responsibility

A spokesperson for Safefood told FoodNavigator that it is not looking for enforced leglisation on the matter but said retailers have a part to play in tackling the increasing issue of childhood obesity.

The campaign has targeted the CEOs of five of Ireland’s top supermarkets by market share – Dunnes Stores, Tesco Ireland, Aldi Ireland, Lidl Ireland and Musgraves Group – with a letter asking them to support customers trying to make healthy choices when shopping.

So far Safefood has received responses from Musgraves Group saying 20% of its stores already have treat-free projects and Aldi Ireland to say it is considering piloting an initiative already being undertaken in its UK stores whereby all sweets are removed from checkouts in selected branches. Tesco also contacted the group to propose a meeting, which is yet to be held. 

The campaign has received support from Irish senator, Feargal Quinn, who worked in retail before moving into politics. He said that with a quarter of primary school children in Ireland overweight or obese, there is potential for Irish supermarkets to play a role in helping parents to make healthier choices for their children. “I’m aware of the competitive environment in which food retailers operate. Every supermarket aims to meet their individual customers’ needs but they also have the capability to encourage their customers to make healthier choices,” he said.

Manufacturing change

The Safefood spokesman said the organisation is not trying tell retailers what to offer in place of the treats and that any change - whether the partial or total removal of confectionery or replacement with healthy options like fruit - would be a step in the right direction.

“We’d hope that they’d remove all sweets. But this is entirely up to them,” he said.

When asked if more pressure should be placed on the manufacturers who make the treats, he said: “Manufacturers are playing their part with portion sizes and reformulating. This campaign is about nudging parents towards making healthier choices.”

Temptation and accountability

In a survey conducted by Safefood, 73% of respondents from the Republic of Ireland said they believed that having sweets and treats at checkouts contributed to obesity. Meanwhile almost half of participants (47%) said they found junk food like sweets, crisps and chocolate at shop checkouts hard to resist. 32% said they regularly bought junk food on impulse while waiting at the checkout and 29% said they would be more likely to shop at places where junk food at checkouts was banned.

In September last year, the British Dietetic Association launched a UK-wide campaign urging governments to force supermarkets to ban guilt lanes if they fail to do so voluntarily. The issue was discussed widely as part of the UK's Responsibility Deal – a government-led public health initiative made up of a series of voluntary industry pledges around alcohol abuse and obesity.

Following debates, Conservative public health minister, Anna Soubry, told our sister site, The Grocer, that critics of sweet-laden checkouts were talking “nonsense”. She said it was a question of individual responsibility, and down to parents to say no to their children. She added that there was nothing wrong with sweets and treats when consumed as part of a balanced and otherwise healthy diet.  

Safefood said its research showed a strong message from parents that they wanted a solutions-based approach in tackling this issue and needed practical help and advice.

"They also recognise that, as parents, they are responsible for taking on this issue – we want to support and encourage them to do that," the group said. 

Safefood will launch another phase of the campaign in March with the relaunch of a TV advert urging parents to say no to children’s junk food pestering. 

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