By Jessica Almy and Emily Snyder
Ever head to Bed Bath & Beyond for a blender and leave with a candy bar? You’re not alone. Our food environment—comprised of our surroundings and the marketing we are exposed to—influences the foods we buy and eat. Retail stores, including supermarkets, big box stores (like Walmart), warehouse stores, and convenience stores, are set up to prompt us to purchase particular foods (and more food) through their layout, product displays, and in-store promotions. Non-food stores—including book, toy, hardware, clothing, and home goods (like Bed Bath & Beyond) stores—also push foods and beverages at checkout.
Shoppers have good intentions. Many of us know that we should cut back on junk food and eat more fruits and vegetables, and more than half of Americans are actively trying to lose weight. So, why aren’t we more successful?
CSPI’s new report, Temptation at Checkout: The Food Industry’s Sneaky Strategy for Selling More, examines how retail marketing manipulates food choices. With high rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, CSPI makes the case that the retail environment should be shaped not only by economic drivers but also by public health considerations. The report proposes beginning with the checkout aisles of retail stores, where the vast majority of purchases (like that candy bar you picked up at Bed Bath & Beyond) are unplanned. By rethinking checkout, retailers could support their customers’ health, rather than pushing the consumption of extra―and often unwanted―calories from candy, soda, and other junk foods and sugary drinks.
Temptation at Checkout profiles examples of projects that have piloted healthy checkout across the country and overseas. For example, in California, the Public Health Institute’s Champions for Change program is bettering health through improvements to grocery stores, including implementing healthy checkout aisles. In New York City, the Bed-Stuy Restoration Corporation, a community development organization, requires its tenant, Super Foodtown, to offer at least some healthy choices in all checkout aisles. Although sugary drinks are still placed at checkout, the aisles offer fresh fruit, nuts, dried fruit and vegetables, and water, and the Corporation is working to make the mix even healthier.
Supermarket Hy-Vee offers one or two “Healthy Bites” aisles in each of its stores in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, which feature “better-for-you” products, such as bottled water, snack bars, and 100-calorie packs. And in Utah, all Harmons grocery stores feature a healthy checkout aisle, which includes foods handpicked by store dietitians using Harmons’ own Dietitians’ Choice criteria, as well as a variety of non-food items.
Checkout pilot projects have demonstrated that healthy aisles are possible. But now is the time for retailers to go further and adopt healthy checkout for all of their checkout aisles. CSPI’s report presents the following recommendations:
- Supermarkets and other food stores should adopt food and nutrition standards for checkout, selling only non-food and healthier food and beverage options there.
- Non‐food stores should remove food and beverages at checkout.
- Like food manufacturers have agreed to policies on food marketing to children, they should voluntarily agree not to use placement fees to induce retailers to place unhealthy foods and beverages at checkout.
- Policymakers should implement policies that set nutrition standards for retail checkout, addressing impulse marketing of foods that increase the risk of chronic diseases.
- Health departments, other government agencies, hospitals, and other institutions should adopt healthy checkout policies for the properties they own or manage.
- Individuals should urge retailers and policymakers to remove unhealthy foods and beverages at the checkout line.
CSPI is calling on shoppers to contact Bed Bath & Beyond CEO Steven Temares to remove food and beverages from Bed Bath & Beyond checkout. The store often sells movie-sized candy packages in checkout-aisle displays and recently acquired Cost Plus, an import discounter, to expand its food sales. Can you believe it? Bed Bath & Beyond should stick to kitchen gadgets and home goods and nix the candy and soda at checkout.
To access the full Temptation at Checkout: The Food Industry’s Sneaky Strategy for Selling More report, the report’s Executive Summary, and other CSPI healthy checkout resources, click here.