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Could mandatory fruit and veg sections near entrances be next?

The UK government has announced that it will stop unhealthy food promotion in shops starting October 2022. The legislation requires medium and large businesses, including those with 50 or more employees, to phase out multibuy promotions such as ‘buy one get one free’ or ‘3 for 2’ offers on HFSS products.

The new rules will affect soft drinks, chocolate and confectionery as well as sweet biscuits and milk desserts.

This move is part of the government’s strategy to combat obesity and “get the country fit and healthy”. According to the government, the rules ” will make it easier for supermarkets and retailers to offer healthier options ,”.

However, the industry has criticized the legislation. According to IRI, the annual sales loss of PS1.1bn is at stake due to these changes. ” These new rules will have a major impact on the way UK retailers operate. It has been described by “ IRI Strategy Consultant Joe Harriman as having the greatest influence on food choices since the postwar rationing era.

The Food and Drink Federation has warned consumers that they will face increased food and beverage prices if the manufacturers have to bear the costs of the proposed policies of the Government, including promotional restrictions for HFSS foods.

Snack businesses like Kind, whose bars contain high amounts of nuts and are therefore classified as HFSS foods, have complained that the rules unfairly target them. New research by the University of Southampton in collaboration with Iceland Foods, a national supermarket chain, has shown that customers are more likely to buy healthier foods if they can avoid unhealthy confectionery at checkouts or the ends of adjacent aisles. The trial was conducted in Iceland Foods stores across England. It monitored sales and the buying habits of regular customers.

The results revealed that confectionery sales declined across the entire store and increased sales of fruit and vegetables when water was placed near checkouts. The positive effects on household vegetable and fruit purchasing, as well as individual quality of dietary intake were observed.

“Our findings showed substantial improvements in population diet by adopting a healthier store layout ,”, said Dr Christina Vogel (Public Health Nutrition Scientist at Southampton University’s MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit).

“Specifically, our research showed that removing confectionery and other unhealthy foods from checkouts and aisle-ends opposite led to approximately 1,500 fewer portions of confectionery being purchased in each store on a weekly basis. We also showed that almost 10,000 additional portions of fruit and vegetables were purchased in each store on a weekly basis when an expanded fresh fruit and vegetable section was placed near the store entrance rather than at the back of the store.”

At the household level, there was approximately 5% greater fruit and vegetable purchasing among households who shopped at stores with the healthier layout compared to those who shopped at store with more conventional layouts. The diets of mothers and children who shopped in healthier shops showed a significant improvement.

” Such improvements in diet habits could be a valuable contribution towards addressing poor diets as a driver of obesity,” Vogel said. “Our results support the UK government’s upcoming ban on unhealthy food being placed at supermarket checkouts.

The study found that there had been a clear drop in confectionery sales at store level, but no changes in household confectionery buying. Researchers speculated that unhealthy foods such as confectionery were found in prominent places around supermarkets, which led to the absence of any change at the household level.

“While confectionery was removed from checkouts in our study, the seasonal (e.g. Vogel said that Easter and Halloween confectionery were removed from checkouts in our study. However, seasonal (e.g. The incoming legislations that incorporates three prominent places (all aisle-ends checkouts and store entry) will likely have greater effects. What remains to be seen is how effects may or may not differ by family composition or level of affluence.”

Will these findings see government intervention extended?

The results suggest that the government could expand its plans to implement the new legislation.

“Although a fresh produce section is placed near the entrance in many large supermarkets this layout is not consistent across all supermarket types,” explained Vogel. ” “Our results should not be viewed as a result of limitations in the design. They may underestimate or overestimate the results.”

Vogel, her co-authors are now conducting a bigger study that only examines the effect an expanded fresh produce section close to store entrances on individual food choices and the differences according to household income ( view study protocol here .

This research was more thorough than other studies. It examined whether placing strategies could promote healthier food buying. Checkouts), or placing unhealthy and healthy products together. The study also examined the impact of non-food products at checkout, aisle ends opposite, and how they affect store sales and customer loyalty card purchases patterns. It also measured household diets and the effects on food intake.

“While more research is required to determine the best alternatives, it could be a way to expand the legislation to support individuals and families from buying unnecessary food at checkout.” stated Vogel.

Matt Downes from Iceland’s Head of Format Development added: ” We are pleased to have supported this long-term research and evaluation on how supermarket product placement can impact the diets our customers. The retail sector has a role to play in combating childhood obesity. We hope that the outcomes of the study provide insights for the wider retail industry and policy makers about the impact of store merchandising on purchasing decisions.”

Reference

Altering product placement to create a healthier layout in supermarkets: Outcomes on store sales, customer purchasing, and diet in a prospective matched controlled cluster study

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed. 1003729

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