Supermarket checkouts make you fat! Serial dieter JENNI MURRAY says it's so hard to resist those naughty little treats by the tills
22:19 GMT, 31 October 2012
Doing the weekly food shop used to be a pretty uncomplicated business. You’d go the supermarket, stock up with the necessities to produce nourishing meals for the family and, maybe, as a special treat for the children, pop a bar of chocolate into the trolley.
Then the retailers got clever. You began to notice sweets and cakes were appearing at the checkouts. Things you might once have ignored, or avoided altogether, were right there, practically shouting ‘Hello! Buy me’. You were particularly vulnerable if you had children with you.
Then, last week, we learned it’s all part of a plot designed to make us spend more money.
Temptation: I know from bitter personal experience how nefarious these supermarket tactics are
The supermarkets meant to tell us the extent to which they plan wholeheartedly to embrace the new traffic light system, designed to steer us away from unhealthy products loaded with sugar, fat and salt.
But then Asda’s head of Corporate Affairs, Sian Jarvis, let slip on the Today programme on Radio 4 that one in three Asda checkouts are ‘what we call guilt-free checkouts’. To which the presenter, Jim Naughtie, quickly retorted, ‘So two out of three are guilty’.
So I conducted an experiment. I toured my local supermarkets to see how tempting those ‘guilty checkouts’ might be and, sure enough, I found myself waiting at the checkout aisles to pay for my groceries and — surrounded by sugary temptation — mindlessly adding to my basket more bags of jelly sweets and chocolate than any family should consume in a week.
At Waitrose, I found every checkout had sugary sweets or cakes on display. Marks & Spencer and Boots forced every shopper down a ‘walk-through queue’ towards the checkout, loaded with sweets and chocolate.
Tesco, I discovered, puts its sweets and chocolate bars on what’s known in the trade as a Gondola End. They’re the exposed blocks of shelves at the end of an aisle where the special offers are usually displayed. The sweets stand out.
I didn’t bother with Asda on account of Jarvis’s clear admission of these tactics.
The battleground: The checkout areas – the guilty ones – are, apparently, known as grab zones
No wonder we’re facing an obesity epidemic.
As someone who finds it particularly hard to resist temptation, I know from bitter personal experience how nefarious these supermarket tactics are.
As some of you may be aware, I’m a bit of a serial dieter. I start out with gritty determination. I buy and eat healthy food. I lose a couple of stone. I feel great.
I move more easily and begin to enjoy my dog walks rather than see them as a struggle and a chore and then I go food shopping, and, like the ex-smoker who thinks just one won’t do any harm, I meet the Bounty bar en route to the checkout, it finds its way into my trolley and ba-boom! All the good work of the preceding weeks and months is undone.
It must have been those check-out chocolates I ate last night!
It’s even worse if you happen to have children with you. I can’t count how many times on my tour of supermarkets I watched the harassed mother I used to be trying to deal with pester power.
How well I remember those days of having a tot in the seat of a loaded trolley, a toddler hanging on to my skirt, and carefully steering us past the biscuits, cakes and big bars of chocolate you find in the aisles.
All fine until the checkout when the wailing begins. ‘Mu-um, can I have . . . ’ You’re struggling with the packing, the paying and making sure your precious offspring don’t get abducted while your attention wavers for a second. You give in.
And that whole cycle of another generation seeing sweets as a regular part of their diet begins again.
It’s infuriating, whatever the circumstances, when you realise how easily manipulated we are by the tricks of a billion-pound retail trade. And they play dirty because the competition between the big stores is fierce.
As a nation we shell out 160 million every day on food and the shops employ the most sophisticated psychology to persuade us to patronise one famous name rather than another and, once inside, to spend, spend, spend. As we enter, there’s a display of fresh fruit and vegetables, lulling us into that false sense of security that whatever we find in store will do us good.
But, if we want a bottle of milk, we have to pass the bakery and, if it’s a bottle of wine you’re after, you probably have to trail through the cereals, crisps, cakes and biscuits.
'I will never again shop without a list. I
will buy nothing that is not on the list. I will mutter “Get thee
behind me, Satan” as the sweets say “Naughty but nice”.'
The checkout areas — the guilty ones — are, apparently, known as grab zones. You’re exhausted from the hour you’ve spent traipsing around the store, you grab yourself a little treat as a reward for your efforts and bingo! A bit more money goes in the shop’s coffers and another inch on your hips.
It’s not a new idea. Psychologists have known for a long time that a ‘guilty’ pleasure is often irresistible. Remember the famous cream cake ads in the Seventies that persuaded us it was OK to have something that was ‘Naughty but nice!’ We fell for it then and we fall for it now and, in the meantime, the entire nation gets fatter and fatter.
I wish I could shop the way my grandmother did. She walked for 15 minutes to the village. In the butcher she bought her meat, her fish from the fishmonger. The Co-op sold cheese, ham, coffee, tea, porridge oats, flour and fats over the counter. She never bought too much because she had to carry it all home and she never went to the bakery because she made her own bread and cakes.
Supermarket sabotage: Writer, broadcaster and serial dieter Jenni Murray knows when sticks to her diet she enjoys, rather than dread her dog walks, but often falls off the diet wagon at the checkout
But these things don’t exist any more. We get no exercise in the shopping process because we go by car. We buy more than we need because it’s easy to transport. And those ‘guilty’ checkouts which were the subject of my researches are every bit as seductive as I suspected. So, I have made a resolution. I will never again shop without a list. I will buy nothing that is not on the list. I will mutter ‘Get thee behind me, Satan’ as the sweets say ‘Naughty but nice’.
And I will not walk around the supermarket like a lab rat in the expected order. I shall go in reverse, starting at the back with the milk and the wine, dashing to the pet food and ending up in the fruit and vegetables.
That way the soft foods won’t get squashed at the bottom of the trolley and the retail psychologists will be stymied!