FRIDAY, Oct. 9, 2020 — Limiting marketing of high-sugar foods in supermarkets doesn’t cut into store profits, but it may improve public health, Australian researchers report.
Price promotions, end-of-aisle displays and putting products at eye level can stimulate sales. Ending these practices reduced purchase of sugar-sweetened drinks and candy in participating stores by the equivalent to nearly two tons of sugar, the researchers said. These included foods and drinks with added sugars, as well as natural sugar in honey, syrups and fruit juices.
The reductions in soft drink and candy purchases were particularly large, researchers said. Even so, profits were not affected, they added.
The study, published Oct. 7 in The Lancet Planetary Health, ran for 12 weeks and focused on 20 randomly selected stores in rural Australia. Some stores restricted promotion of sugary foods, others did not.
“Our novel study is the first to show that limiting [promotional] activities can also have an effect on sales, in particular, of unhealthy food and drinks,” said researcher Julie Brimblecombe, an associate professor of nutrition, dietetics and food at Monash University in Melbourne.
“This strategy has important health implications and is an opportunity to improve diets and reduce associated non-communicable diseases. It also offers a way for supermarkets to position themselves as responsible retailers, which could potentially strengthen customers’ loyalty without damaging business performance,” she said in a journal news release.
The changes affected sugar-sweetened drinks, candy and other sweets, table sugar and sweet biscuits (cookies). Among other things, these restricted price promotions, removed end-of-aisle and counter displays, and reduced refrigerator space for sugary drinks while placing large-size soft drinks elsewhere. Stores also promoted water and listed the amount of sugar in soft drinks.
As a result, added sugars purchased in foods and drinks fell 3%. Sugars in purchased sugar-sweetened drinks were cut by 7%, and from soda purchases it dropped 13%. Sugars from candy sales fell 7.5%, the researchers found.
Co-author Emma McMahon, a research fellow at Menzies School of Health Research in Casuarina, Australia, said researchers expected the strategy would work best on impulse items like sweet biscuits rather than on staples like table sugar.
“A different strategy for biscuits and items like table sugar should be explored to stimulate change in those buying behaviors,” she said in the release.
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