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Do healthy checkout strategies lead to healthier purchasing behaviour?

Research Team: Alison Fildes, University of Leeds; Phillippa Lally, University College London; Michelle A Morris, University of Leeds; Alexandra Dalton, University of Leeds; Helen Croker, University College London

From Autumn 2022, the rules for selling products high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) in England will change and location restrictions will come into force to prevent these items from being shown in front of store, on gondola ends and at checkouts.

As retailers undertake preparations to implement these new regulations, researchers from the Consumer Data Research Centre and colleagues assessed the impact that location restrictions can have on the sale of less healthy foods.

In 2015 the ‘healthy checkouts initiative’ was launched in Tesco Express convenience stores across the UK.  The initiative removed less healthy products – those high in fat, salt or sugar – from the in-queue checkout space in 1151 stores.

However despite having been rolled out on a mass-scale, the initiative had not been subjected to external evaluation until now and while lots has changed since 2015, it is important to share these learnings with the wider community. 

In a study, published today in the journal Nutrition Bulletin our researchers analysed sales data for 1101 participating Tesco Express stores over an eight-week period in 2014, prior to the introduction of the initiative, and the same eight-week period in 2015 following the roll-out.

Analysis revealed that whilst shoppers mean overall spend increased from 2014-2015 the proportion of less healthy food decreased, from 8.21% in 2014 to 8.03% in 2015.  Unsurprisingly confectionery accounted for the largest proportion of less healthy product spend and showed the biggest reduction, from 4.12% in 2014 to 3.91% in 2015.

The team used data from other major UK stores to compare Tesco’s sales to the UK market and found there was no general decline in sales of less healthy products (with the possible exception of crisps) in the UK market during the period, whereas sales from Tesco only showed a slight decrease in sales.

Co-author of the report, Dr Michelle Morris, from the Nutrition and Lifestyle Analytics Team at the University of Leeds, said: “Tesco was one of the first supermarkets to implement a healthy checkout strategy and our analysis indicates that the removal of less healthy products from checkouts can lead to small but important changes with respect to healthier purchasing behaviour. However, the study also highlighted some of the challenges that retailers face when implementing such initiatives.”

Oonagh Turnbull, Head of Health and Sustainable Diets At Tesco, said: We are committed to helping our customers enjoy a better-balanced diet and to making Tesco the easiest place to shop for affordable, healthy, sustainable food. We have a long history of taking action, from being the first supermarket to take sweets off our checkouts in large stores in 1994 to ensuring all our Own Brand soft drinks were below the Soft Drinks Sugar Levy in 2016 – ahead of its introduction. 

Helping our customers to eat a healthier and more sustainable diet is a key focus for our business. In March 2021, we set out our ambitious health commitments including an increase in sales of healthy products, as a proportion of total sales, to 65% by 2025. More recently, following the Government announcement that restrictions on multibuy deals on foods high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) are to be delayed for a year, we also confirmed that we will continue with plans to remove volume-led promotions on HFSS products from October 2022.

You can read the full paper online in Nutrition Bulletin.

The funding and sales data were provided by Tesco but the company played no role in the study design, analysis or interpretation.