21 Mar 2019 New research from Food Active and the UK Health Forum shows unhealthy food and drink options dominate choices at non-food retail environments
Timely new research undertaken by public health charities Food Active and the UK Health Forum has revealed the extent of sweets, chocolate, sugary drinks and biscuits across non-food retail outlets, with two fifths (41%) of non-food retailers also engaged in product promotions.
Commissioned by Public Health England (PHE), the research is composed of two strands. The first strand looks at the availability and marketing of less healthy food and drink options in traditional non-food settings, with the second strand consisting of a consumer survey report providing data on consumer experience of food and drink options in non-food retail outlets.
There is currently limited evidence on this growing trend of marketing in the non-food retail sector, and the two reports illustrate that this type of marketing, particularly on less healthy options, is not only prevalent across a wide range of stores, but consumers recognise and regularly engage with it too.
Strand One – The marketing and availability of less healthy food and drink in traditional non-food stores
Food Active led on Strand One of the research, visiting over 300 stores across three location in England. Of all stores visited, nearly a third sold food and drinks within store, with pharmaceutical, medical and cosmetic stores, newsagents and stationery and gift stores being the three most common. The research shows the most common category of food and drinks sold in these stores were sweets and chocolate confectionery, contributing to two fifths of all food and drink options recorded (40.8%). This was followed by sugary drinks (10.1%) and biscuits (9.6%).
With concerns that increased availability of unhealthy products can lead to a greater likelihood of people becoming overweight or obese, these food and drink categories are included in PHE’s sugar reduction programme which form part of the government’s commitment to tackling childhood obesity.
The findings also revealed that just under 1 in 3 (30%) of food and drink options were subject to price promotions, with over one third (34%) for sweets and chocolate confectionery. Furthermore, over two fifths (42%) of all food and drink options were located at the checkout – half (51%) of which were sweets and confectionery.
Strand Two – Consumers experiences of food and drink availability and marketing in non-food stores
Building on this snapshot of non-food retail environments, Food Active supported the UK Health Forum to devise and disseminate an online survey of 1,682 people in England, to understand consumer experiences of the availability and promotion of food and drinks in non-food retail environments.
The consumer results reinforced earlier findings:
- Seven out of 10 people (70%) who had visited a non-food store in the last month reported having seen a food or drink item on sale, and 42% reported purchasing food or drink while shopping in these stores in the last month.
- Two thirds (66%) of products purchased by consumers were classified as unhealthy, including sweets and chocolate, savoury snacks, sugary drinks and energy drinks.
- Two fifths (42%) reported purchasing products due to a special offer or promotion.
- Consumers agreed that further restrictions should be put in place in clothing and footwear stores (40%), audio and visual entertainment stores (41%), and in toy and games stores (45%).
- Female consumers, those on lower incomes and those aged 55+ were more likely to support further restrictions.
The report comes as the Department of Health and Social Care are currently consulting on restricting promotions of less healthy food and drink by price and place across all types of retail environments as part of the Childhood Obesity Plan Chapter 2 to reduce the availability, accessibility and marketing of less healthy food and drink particularly for children and young people.
Alison Tedstone, Chief Nutritionist, Public Health England said:
“With food and drink increasingly consumed on the go, all retailers have a responsibility to avoid putting greater temptation front and centre, through unhealthy food offerings when people shop for clothing, books and toys. Supermarket retailers have committed to no longer target children from the queue to check out – and it makes sense for there to be a level playing field so that good action by some is not undermined.”
Alison Giles, Interim Chief Executive of the UK Health Forum said:
“This research clearly highlights that our food environments are larger than just home, school and traditional food retailer settings. We know that availability and promotion of unhealthy food and drink items influence people’s purchasing and consumption patterns, particularly children and young people. Addressing the availability of unhealthy food items in non-food retail outlets must be part of any comprehensive package of policy measures. Having this research available is well timed to contribute to the Government’s current consultation on restricting promotions of less healthy food and drink.”
Alex Holt, Food and Nutrition Lead for Food Active said:
“We are concerned at the increasing availability and promotion of unhealthy food and drink items in shopping environments such as clothing and cosmetics stores, newsagents and department stores.
“Whilst we accept the financial pressure on non-food retail environments to diversify away from their ‘core offer’, the overwhelming availability and promotion of less healthy options is alarming as these are the items that contribute the most to children’s excess sugar and calorie consumption. Publication of this research is particularly timely as it will enhance the evidence base for organisations responding to the current consultation on restricting promotions of less healthy food and drink by price and place across retail environments.”
We encourage those interested to use this evidence to respond to the consultation to restrict the promotion of less healthy food and drink by price and place, across all types of retailers. We know from this new evidence that the traditional non-food retail sector regularly engage in the promotion of less healthy food and drink by price and place – and must be included in any proposed restrictions to create a level playing field across the wider retail sector.
Using our evidence from both this report and our regional survey of purchases of price promotions in the North West, Food Active will be responding to the DHSC consultation on behalf of our commissioning local authorities and will share the response on our website in the days prior to the final submission of Saturday 6th April.
You can respond to the consultation here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/restricting-promotions-of-food-and-drink-that-is-high-in-fat-sugar-and-salt