Child at checkout

Pressure is mounting on grocers to banish ‘guilt lanes’ once and for all, after Tesco’s decision this week to sweep sugary products from the checkouts.

Tesco Metro and Express stores in the UK and Republic of Ireland will join the retailer’s larger supermarkets in removing sweets and chocolate from tills by December. The announcement follows a similar move from Lidl in January.

“We all know how easy it is to be tempted by sugary snacks at the checkout and we want to help our customers lead healthier lives,” said Tesco CEO Philip Clarke.

The move left Tesco’s rivals weighing their response, creating a fairly confusing picture of their current policies and plans. A Morrisons spokesman said it would remove confectionery from one in five checkouts in its larger stores from July this year.

But Asda defended its right to offer consumers choice: “We offer customers a range of different products at our checkouts including batteries, magazines as well as toiletries and some treats.”

Sainsbury’s said it had already stopped displaying confectionery at tills in supermarkets, but stuck to its guns on c-stores: “People expect to find confectionery near the till in convenience stores or when they are buying from our kiosks and sandwich areas. We also stock a good selection of fruit, nuts and other products alongside to provide healthier alternatives.”

Co-operative Food said it did not sell sweets at tills in large stores but offered a range of products in its c-stores: “We will continue to develop the range of products on offer and will be guided by our customers.”

And an M&S spokeswoman said: “In 2012 we removed confectionery from all belted till points with child appeal eg. Percy Pig, Colin the Caterpillar etc. We are always looking for ways to help our customers make healthy choices and we will continue to work closely with the government and industry bodies on this.”

Tesco’s move was a “really welcome first step” said Kath Dalmeny, co-ordinator at Health charity Sustain, which is behind the Junk Free Checkouts campaign. “Culture has changed. People are more canny that marketing is pressing them to buy things they don’t want. And it’s something that parents really hate.”

However, she warned that promotions on unhealthy foods weren’t just at checkouts.

“Ideally all supermarkets would have a policy on promotions in-store that would help customers eat more healthily.”

National obesity Forum spokesman Tam Fry added: “We’ve long waited for somebody to break rank and do something about this. Tesco is building up quite a reputation of being ahead of the rest. I hope everyone else falls into line. It’s an extremely responsible and decisive move.”

Tesco’s action came as it published an update on its ‘Using our scale for good’ strategy this week, in which it outlined three main ambitions: to improve health and tackle obesity; reduce food waste; and create new opportunities for young people.

The term ‘guilt lanes’ came to public attention in 2012 after it was used by former Asda corporate affairs director Sian Jarvis in a BBC Today programme interview. Jarvis admitted that two out of three Asda checkouts were “guilty” of displaying sugary products to tempt shoppers.

Tesco and Society report 2014

  • Three billion calories taken out of Tesco’s soft drinks in last two years
  • 70,000 diabetes health checks run in-store and online
  • 25 common products measured for their food waste ‘profile’
  • 6,000 apprenticeships run in 2013/14
  • 40,000 users of Tesco’s online Academy
  • Eight million meals donated by Tesco to UK food banks