We surveyed over 100 Coles, Woolworths Aldi, and independent stores across Australia for our report.
We measured how much shelf space was allocated to each food and the way it was promoted at the checkouts and displays at the end of the aisles. We also looked for discounts on healthy items compared to unhealthy ones.
The Australian Dietary Guideline categorizes foods and beverages as either “five food group” foods that are healthy or “discretionary foods” that are unhealthy.
We analyzed the results by the supermarket chain and the degree of disadvantage in the areas where each store is located.
Promotion of unhealthy food and drinks at checkouts
In 90% of the staff-assisted checkouts, we found displays of unhealthy foods and drinks. Typical displays included candy, energy drinks, soft drinks, and chocolate.
Specials at checkouts were also more likely to contain unhealthy food or drinks.
These results demonstrate how checkout displays can encourage impulse purchases of unhealthy snacks. The displays at the entrance to most stores feature fresh fruits and vegetables.
Stores promote unhealthy food.
Supermarkets place their largest promotions on the displays at the ends of the aisles.
In our survey, we found that 80% of the end-of-aisle displays of food and beverages had at least one unhealthy item. Coles, Woolworths, and independent supermarkets displayed twice as many unhealthy foods as healthy ones.
Two-thirds (or more) of all food and drink specials are for unhealthy products.
Shutterstock is more likely to promote unhealthy food than healthy food. Shutterstock
Where you shop matters
Coles and Woolworths were similar in terms of the metrics we looked at.
But Aldi stores were quite different. Overall, they had fewer displays of promotional items and discounts. Aldi’s shoppers are not subjected to the same pressure as they would be at other large chains.
Independent stores vary widely. In general, independent stores were not better than Woolworths or Coles.
The two healthiest shops in our study, however, were independent stores that had a lot of fresh foods and very few displays promoting unhealthy food or drinks. A healthier environment in the supermarket is possible.
Read more: Don’t be fooled; supermarkets don’t have your health at heart.
It also matters where you live.
The supermarkets allocated more shelf space for unhealthy foods and drinks, such as chips, chocolate, confectionery, and sweet biscuits. They also gave more shelf space to soft drinks, energy drinks, and other sugary drinks.
This was most evident in the stores that were located in less privileged areas.
In lower socioeconomic areas, supermarkets displayed a greater proportion of unhealthy foods and drinks. Author provided
The people who are living in poverty have a higher rate of diet-related illnesses and eat less nutritious foods. They are more likely to consume unhealthy food.
It shouldn’t matter where we live whether or not unhealthy food is promoted to us.
Read more: How we get sucked in by junk food specials in supermarkets.
We need higher standards in Australian supermarkets.
The COVID-19 epidemic has brought to light the importance of supermarkets in our everyday lives.
We will still be faced with a costly national health issue due to our unhealthy diets and the high rates of obesity.
Supermarkets are a part of the solution. Supermarkets can assist all Australians in moving towards a healthier and more nutritious diet.