Supermarket tactics contributing to obesity, report finds

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The marketing tactics deployed by supermarkets to drive sales of unhealthy food and beverage products have been revealed in a new report.

The ‘Health on the Shelf’ report from Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and Slimming Work reveals that supermarket layout, pricing strategies and shopping environment is fuelling the obesity epidemic.

It is published in advance of the Government’s expected response to the consultation on layout and price promotions.

The report also reveals that over one third of shoppers reported that they impulse purchase unhealthy products because they are on special offer, and one in five say supermarkets cause them to go off track when attempting to lose weight.

An audit of small, ‘local’ style supermarkets found that many unhealthy products such as confectionary and crisps are located in multiple prominent areas around the store, including at the end of aisles and around the checkout.

The two organisations are now calling for government and industry to do more to support supermarkets in encouraging healthier choices to consumers.

Health on the Shelf recommends that supermarkets adopt a set of key principles to apply to all major supermarket retailers, to include:

  • Greater allocation of shelf space to healthier products, based on the Government’s Eatwell Guide;
  • The introduction of a healthy rewards scheme;
  • Provision of recipe cards and cooking demonstrations on how to use ingredients to create healthy meals.
  • Business rate reductions for supermarkets and retailers who take health seriously by adopting key principles.
  • Explore introducing a healthy rating scheme, similar to the FSA’s Food Hygiene Rating Scheme ‘scores on the doors’, based on the proportion of healthy and unhealthy products stocked.

To bring this to life, RSPH and Slimming World have opened the UK’s first ever supermarket designed by public health experts to nudge consumers to make healthier choices.

Nudge at The People’s Supermarket, located in Central London, is open to the public, and highlights how supermarkets can be health promoting environments.

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of RSPH, said: “There has been some progress by supermarkets in areas such as removing junk from check outs, but our research shows that shoppers and industry experts feel there is much more supermarkets can and should do to promote healthier choices – reducing the shelf allocation for unhealthy products, providing clearer labelling and signage and even changing the shopper experience.

“We wanted to practically show what this new approach could look like, by unveiling the UK’s first supermarket designed by public health experts.

“Alongside Slimming World, we are calling on the government to commit to legislation to support supermarkets in promoting healthier choices through legislation. If we change the environment we can encourage healthier choices for all.”