Lips Like Sugar: The dangerous diet of the checkout aisle
August 9, 2015 5:58 PM   Subscribe

One of the biggest offenders in promoting unhealthy eating, facilitating diet-related disease, and exploiting decision fatigue in Americans is hidden in plain sight: the checkout aisle. And it's all according to plan. The Center for Science in the Public Interest's recent report, Temptation at Checkout: The Food Industry's Sneaky Strategy for Selling More (executive summary) takes a critical look at how the retail environment maximizes sales of snacks and candy at the cash register.

From the report:
Checkout provides an illusion of choice where little choice is offered. What appears to be “choice” is really a sophisticated marketing strategy to generate impulse buys. No matter where you are in the country, what the season is, or what kind of store you are visiting, checkout invariably offers the same array of unhealthy foods and beverages. There may be different flavors and varieties of items, but the foods are almost all candy, chips, and snack cakes.
How much do checkout aisles contribute to the bottom line?
A 2009 study sponsored by Mars, Time-Warner, Wrigley, Coca-Cola, and other manufacturers found that 1% of all supermarket sales can be attributed to items in the checkout aisle. Of those sales, candy accounts for 30%. It’s the largest category bought at checkout, followed by magazines and beverages. Combined, candy, magazines, and drinks make up 80% of all checkout-aisle purchases.

To put those figures in perspective: The US grocery business comprises nearly 65,000 supermarkets and other stores, with total annual revenues approaching $550 billion. This suggests that checkout-aisle revenue is a nearly $5.5 billion-a-year business in the US alone.
Sugar, fat, and calories abound in the checkout aisle, and many of the items are placed right where children can see and reach them, which is a common parental pet peeve. At least one grocery chain in the U.K. has banned junk food in checkout aisles. In the U.S., a few grocery stores are beginning to provide healthy checkout aisles; the CDC has highlighted a similar project.

More worryingly for the manufacturers of snacks and candy are online ordering and the rise of the self-checkout, both of which have reduced opportunities for impulse buying. One solution, proposed in an article in Candy & Snack Today (.pdf), is to move these impulse buys beyond the checkout area. "Produce is by far the most underused candy location in a store,” says David Tucci, executive director for Consolidated Sales Network. (Meanwhile, the produce aisle is fighting back: last summer, Giant Eagle stores and Walmart launched pilot projects to make the fruits and veggies section into eye candy for kids.) The Hershey Co., which stands to lose money on falling impulse buys, is taking a different approach: "For curbside grocery pickups, Hershey could upgrade kiosks or add menu boards to allow buyers one final candy grab before finishing their order. At self-checkout machines, shoppers could find a special dispenser that spits out chocolate bars on demand. The company could also dispatch an army of vending machines to grab shoppers outside the store, including, potentially, looking to “some dispensing opportunities around [gas] pumps."
posted by MonkeyToes (54 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
The psychology is very interesting, but is this really news at all? And if one is self-educated about the issue is there a need to ban this sort of marketing in the check-out aisle?

I wonder if impulse buying on Amazon will be banned next.
posted by Nevin at 6:04 PM on August 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


For a long time, the Loblaws near my house in Toronto had racks of bargain DVDs near the checkouts, right above the magazines. I always wondered if anyone was actually throwing a 2-pack of David Carradine movies in with their groceries on a whim, and if so who and why.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:07 PM on August 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


My local Wegmans gives parents a couple of no-candy lines, but then they expose the children to all sorts of Disney coloring books instead...
posted by thomas j wise at 6:07 PM on August 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've always wondered about this strategy. I've always been too embarrassed to pick up some piece of candy or junk with the cashier right there, being able to judge my utter lack of impulse control (esp. if it's a cute cashier girl). I thought most people would also be a bit embarrassed, but maybe I'm just especially self-conscious.
posted by naju at 6:17 PM on August 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


Honestly, CSPI is the biggest bunch of ridiculous fear-mongers.

This suggests that checkout-aisle revenue is a nearly $5.5 billion-a-year business in the US alone.

That's about $17 a year for every man, woman and child in the U.S., and if only 30% of that is spent on candy, that's about $5 worth of candy--maybe a Snickers every three months. It's hard to believe that constitutes the "one of the biggest offenders in promoting unhealthy eating [and] facilitating diet-related disease."
posted by drlith at 6:19 PM on August 9, 2015 [38 favorites]


A 2009 study sponsored by Mars, Time-Warner, Wrigley, Coca-Cola, and other manufacturers found that 1% of all supermarket sales can be attributed to items in the checkout aisle.

That seems oddly high to me, but I am sure my shopping habits are not representative. Once in a while I will grab a candy bar from the rack there, but it's a rare occurrence, and it doesn't seem like I see all that many people taking enough for it to really be one percent of total sales.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:20 PM on August 9, 2015


I've mostly got enough self-control to avoid the candy, but lip balm is my checkout aisle guilty purchase. "Huh, my lips do feel kinda dry..."
posted by asperity at 6:24 PM on August 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


That seems oddly high to me

Eh, I dunno. "1% of all" my "supermarket sales" (whatever that means -- dollars? items? shopping trips?) could very easily be a pack of gum.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:38 PM on August 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


For a long time, the Loblaws near my house in Toronto had racks of bargain DVDs near the checkouts, right above the magazines. I always wondered if anyone was actually throwing a 2-pack of David Carradine movies in with their groceries on a whim, and if so who and why.

In the same city and store, I did once find a copy of John Carpenter's The Fog (the proper 1980 version) for like six bucks in one of those, so...score?

But I don't know about all this being "sneaky." It seems pretty shameless, blatant and transparent to me. The thing that concerns me more is that it's just so goddamn effective.

One cite from the the CSPI study:

“We must avoid the mental model that a customer makes a rational comparison of product attributes, as if making a list of pros and cons. Most decisions happen very rapidly, with significant processing done outside conscious awareness” (Martin, 2008).

Boy, do they have my number.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:38 PM on August 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Fortunately any appetite-stimulating products in the checkout lane are effectively cancelled out by the nausea-inducing properties of the celebrity and gossip magazine covers that confront you in every direction. Unfortunately they don't place any buckets nearby, but surely eating something is the last thing on your mind when your overwhelming impulse is to violently blow chunks.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:40 PM on August 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't think I've made a last-minute checkout lane purchase since the demise of the Weekly World News.
posted by eschatfische at 6:41 PM on August 9, 2015 [27 favorites]




That seems oddly high to me

I read that as specifically supermarket sales for the candy and magazine companies listed.
posted by Glinn at 6:42 PM on August 9, 2015


Ever since my Mouth Problems (check my blog if you're interested) began, I try to carry around a tin of mints. I'm a sucker at the impulse buy section because What If I'm Out of Mints.

I'm never out of mints but clearly I am convinced I am the type of person to be in a situation where I am Out of Mints.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 6:49 PM on August 9, 2015 [10 favorites]


Then you have Coke going and doing this:
Coca-Cola, the world’s largest producer of sugary beverages, is backing a new “science-based” solution to the obesity crisis: To maintain a healthy weight, get more exercise and worry less about cutting calories.

The beverage giant has teamed up with influential scientists who are advancing this message in medical journals, at conferences and through social media. To help the scientists get the word out, Coke has provided financial and logistical support to a new nonprofit organization called the Global Energy Balance Network, which promotes the argument that weight-conscious Americans are overly fixated on how much they eat and drink while not paying enough attention to exercise.
But this all kind of neglects that, like Hershey's efforts to "dispatch an army of vending machines," they're always looking for ubiquitious availability of their product. So it's not like they're not going all "Heeeeyyyyyyy! You need to drink more of our stuff! Here!" and angling to do stuff like make sure it's widely available in schools, etc.

So it looks like they've formulated a whole new lexicon:
Around the globe, much of the current obesity dialogue focuses on regulating the environment as a way to promote healthy behavior. While environmental change is crucial it is also necessary to understand the psychological and social determinants of individual and population behavior in order to formulate workable solutions that do not have unintended consequences. What's needed is an evidence-based approach based on the concept of energy balance to address the complex issues that obesity and other energy-balance-related diseases present.
This reeks of much of the same strategy around climate change denial funded by energy companies, and before them, the tobacco industry, which marshalled "science" to help muddy the waters around any regulatory debate focused on their product.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:55 PM on August 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


Nevin: if one is self-educated about the issue is there a need to ban this sort of marketing in the check-out aisle?

Let's unpack this question: first, self-education requires the desire to be educated (the "self" part), and the idea that such information is widely available ("education"). Second, it seems that the notion is that bans are put in place because people cannot or will not become self-educated. Disregarding the requirement that people find the time to read up on a given subject, and can understand the literature on the given topic, this assumes that people have the willpower to override their urges (see the theory of ego depletion for some fun reading on the topic).

In short: bans are not put into place because people can't or won't educate themselves, but because there is a risk or hazard to the general public or a significant population that could be avoided if that thing just wasn't there. See: lead in paint, tobacco ads aimed at children. Of course, this is closer to the realm of (failed) bans on large soft drinks, where you can still do something, but not in this fashion.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:12 PM on August 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


I hate the checkout lane. Not because of any temptation, but because it's such a sad, depressing experience. It's sort of an executive summary of American culture.

Even if you aren't at all interested in any of the stuff, you still have nothing better to do while in line but to read the trashy magazine covers and wonder how long the "impulse buy" Toblerone has been sitting there.

I still get a chuckle, though, whenever Cosmo has an especially risqué cover and the supermarket places a magazine-sized metal plate in the rack to hide the cover from innocent eyes.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:16 PM on August 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


See: lead in paint, tobacco ads aimed at children.

Note there's a difference here. As a parent, I can easily see that a magazine has ad for tobacco in it. I cannot easily tell that the paint in that building uses lead based paint.

Legislation is really important when something is harmful *and* it's difficult to impossible for the typical person to know if a given item contains the harmful version or the safe version of the thing.
posted by eriko at 7:17 PM on August 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Maybe vaguely off topic but the last few times I've been out shopping, something has struck me: why the hell supermarket checkouts don't function like banks. One line, next person in line to the next available cashier. Would reduce so much grar--this is how self-checkout works!
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:20 PM on August 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


I couldn't tell you the last time I bought candy or anything else from the checkout aisle, even batteries. Mom laid down the law 40 years ago, so I don't even think of it as a self-comforting treat or whatever. (Cakes, pies, cookies, and McDonald's breakfast on the other hand….)


I can't think of the name of the promotion, but on channels kids might be watching like Cartoon Network, "they" have been running commercials that paraphrased say, "If you're going to play video games all day, have a bottle of water. If you're out playing ultimate Frisbee, you can drink a soda." I want to say that "they" is Coke plus other beverage and snack makers, but again, I can't really recall the details of the thing and I can't find a clip to link.
posted by ob1quixote at 7:23 PM on August 9, 2015


I am the ideal customer for this kind of marketing strategy (that and in-app purchases, ugh). I am rarely in a place where I'm not shopping while hungry so I end up grabbing a bag of M&Ms or goldfish or whatever and snacking away. It only seems to happen at Target, though... Hmm. It really is a psychological "get my needs met right now" sort of thing. Work sucks, I'm hungry, etc, so lemme treat myself to something sweet as a bandaid. My tummy is getting quite pouchy. :(
posted by Hermione Granger at 7:28 PM on August 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Would reduce so much grar

In theory. This is how military commissaries work, and I can tell you not much grar has been reduced. Plus you seem to need a whole employee just to tell the person at the head of the line which register will be open next for some reason. In case the little ding and flashing light doesn't clue them in, I guess.
posted by ctmf at 7:33 PM on August 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


it seems to work for banks though
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:36 PM on August 9, 2015


Speaking of commissaries, one I went to in the 80s worked like an Ikea, where you had to follow the path through the whole store, start to finish. No going backwards, although passing in the aisle was allowed. I believe you could skip at the ends, but not to one that was one-way the wrong direction, and not to one you'd already passed. It was horrible.

But you didn't need a list. You had plenty of time to see every product and make a need it/don't need it decision.
posted by ctmf at 7:38 PM on August 9, 2015


The impulse shelves am my local Kroger (regional grocery store) are how I ended up purchasing about 6 VHS copies of Werner Herzogs "Even Dwarfs Started Small" for like $2 each one christmas, to be given to a select few friends. Half of them never got around to watching it, half of them don't talk to me anymore. So they aren't always horrible.

I bought every copy they had. I still have no idea why they were there - especially over Christmas, at a store that traditionally ONLY carried food - but I was most definitely being judged for that purchase. No regrets. If you haven't seen that movie, well, all I ask is that you don't get angry at ME if you watch it.

I haven't found anything quite that incredible in the impulse bins since, but I still hope for it every time.
posted by MysticMCJ at 7:40 PM on August 9, 2015 [13 favorites]


why the hell supermarket checkouts don't function like banks. One line, next person in line to the next available cashier.

Welcome to my neighborhood Trader Joe's. They not only have a centralized line, they have a person whose sole job it is to escort shoppers to the next available cashier. Not coincidentally, that store also has sufficiently long lines that they have to move people in a particular direction just to keep the store moving (and yet the line is only ever five minutes long because every checkstand has a cashier). So much love for Trader Joe's.

I was already thinking of Trader Joe's in regards to this FPP. They do have candy at the checkout aisle but since TJs mostly sells their own items, that means no M&Ms or Wrigley's gum. They have mints and candy but it's all store brand except for the Ritter Sport (bonus: no magazines). It's just...less frantic than a traditional checkout aisle. Certainly they're no better for you but, as usual with Trader Joe's, it feels better.
posted by librarylis at 7:41 PM on August 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I ended up purchasing about 6 VHS copies of Werner Herzogs "Even Dwarfs Started Small" for like $2 each one christmas, to be given to a select few friends.

Oh my god, this is amazing. You absolutely did the right thing.
posted by naju at 7:42 PM on August 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


The simpsons taught me that the express line is rarely the correct choice. This knowledge has served me well.

Also, does anywhere else besides the midwest have a super weird obsession with making sure the customer never bags their own groceries? In the mid atlantic baggers were a luxury usually reserved for the elderly. Here I've seen baggers get yelled at by managers because bagged my own groceries to expedite the process.
posted by Ferreous at 8:10 PM on August 9, 2015


For a long time, the Loblaws near my house in Toronto had racks of bargain DVDs near the checkouts, right above the magazines. I always wondered if anyone was actually throwing a 2-pack of David Carradine movies in with their groceries on a whim, and if so who and why.

a) my mother

b) action movie & Carradine fan

seriously: she has shelves and shelves of b-action movies (though her favourites are disaster films), most purchased at cut rate prices,
often at a check out.
posted by jb at 8:19 PM on August 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Choose a line with men and no old people (men or women).
posted by Enemy of Joy at 9:06 PM on August 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


At my local Kroger, there isn't one aisle that hasn't had a junk food (usually candy) stand placed in it. Avoiding them is like navigating a temptation obstacle course. In fact, this particular irritation is one of the things that pulled me to left. I absolutely believe the government should be regulating this sort of predatory retailing.
posted by Beholder at 9:08 PM on August 9, 2015


Yes. I will take four of the Werner Herzog special thing. Yes.

The one with the dwarves, yes.
posted by mrdaneri at 9:15 PM on August 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


See: lead in paint, tobacco ads aimed at children. Of course, this is closer to the realm of (failed) bans on large soft drinks, where you can still do something, but not in this fashion.

Sure, there is a time and a place for state intervention, but lead paint is not the same thing as selling candy bars in the checkout aisle, or even the ridiculous soda ban in New York.

Why not ban all impulse buying? Why not ban eBay while you're at it?

Or, why not tackle the root cause of the problem. People are not buying sugary drinks and candy bars because they're too stupid and uneducated to know differently. They're buying this crap - and, in my younger days, I did too - because it satiates some sort of craving, even a psychological need.

It's an entire continuum of unhealthy behavior, fueled by hits of dopamine, that starts with sugary drinks and cigarettes, and continues to alcohol, "hard drugs", sex, gambling - you name it.

It's a symptom of a social problem, and it's a problem that can only be fixed by addressing the needs of the individual, not by banning one thing (eg, "candy bars in the checkout aisle") and not the other (eg, Amazon Instant Purchase Button).
posted by Nevin at 9:22 PM on August 9, 2015


6 VHS copies of Werner Herzogs "Even Dwarfs Started Small"

Holy god, this is amazing. This is the only film I can think of that had me doubled over laughing to the point of intense side pain and gasping for breath. (It was the scene with the pig.)

This mashup of the film with Notorious BIG is probably the best possible trailer for the film.
posted by kaibutsu at 9:29 PM on August 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


and yet the line is only ever five minutes long because every checkstand has a cashier

Why can only trader joes and costco pull of this amazing feat? Every other grocery store in my city will have like, 10 or 20 checkouts and only have checkers at two.

Worse, now that they've started switching them all to self checkouts... they shut off whole ranks of those and only have maybe half of them operating most of the time.

Does it really cost that much to make the store not infuriating to shop at? I've seen a nonzero number of people just ditch their stuff and walk out when lines are bad and moving really slow. Wonder what the revenue/labor over under is on that.

One line, next person in line to the next available cashier. Would reduce so much grar--this is how self-checkout works!

Everyone here is a total garbage can at this though. Every 3rd person is staring at their phone with headphones on, geeked out of their mind, locked in a conversation with their friend, whatever. And since the one person manning the whole self checkout throng has to also check IDs and unjam "attendant has been notified" stations, they can't really point people to open terminals very often.

I've gotten so tired of waiting behind nonmoving people that i'll just count to 3 and cut around them. And since it's seattle, everyones too passive aggressive to ever say anything.

So yea, you don't just need a unified line, you also need a line jockey or hostess or whatever. At REALLY busy times i've seen them assign someone to this and it makes the line move so freaking fast that you basically don't even wait... but they're too cheap to do it most of the time, or even have more than half the machines on.
posted by emptythought at 11:32 PM on August 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've never seen a line jockey for self-checkouts here, but then Canadians are probably culturally more into orderly queuing (or used to be sigh I am getting old).
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:12 AM on August 10, 2015


Over here, there are nuts and portions of small sized vegetables (meant for snacking) offered at the checkouts at the Lidl supermarket. There's usually some candy too, but it does make things more balanced.
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:27 AM on August 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


The better statistic to track is what percentage of that 30% is bought by people with children under the age of 11 or so.

"MOM!!!!!!".
posted by jefflowrey at 4:37 AM on August 10, 2015


I'm more likely to make impulse purchases at a drugstore than at a grocery store: I've lived most of my adult life in cities, where there's a CVS or Walgreens near almost every train station and it's easy to kill a bit of time there before work or an appointment. Grocery shopping requires a dedicated trip, and I'm more focused on the things I need to get, while drugstore trips are usually low-key browsing with maybe one or two things I need to pick up.

And, weirdly, it's kind of hard to impulse-buy a candy bar at the drugstore checkout. They're all there, but they're below waist level and it's hard to see what's all there. And once you're that close to the counter, there's usually a cashier nearby so you might as well skip your NutRageous and just check out.

I also have trouble at places like Sephora, where all the small impulse-buy items are right in your face when you're in line to buy something, but if you're just looking it's a lot harder to see everything without getting in someone's way. I almost never buy things at Sephora these days, but I have a feeling I would if all the little fun things were easier for me to get to.

Of all the things I could complain about, not being able to waste money more efficiently is probably the stupidest, but there you go.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:11 AM on August 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


"Produce is by far the most underused candy location in a store,”

I was just at the Cub, and they have started putting big displays of candy in the aisle of the produce section! It's usually pretty gross candy, of course.

(There used to be another grocery store across the way; I shopped at the Cub for the better selection. Now the other store has closed and the selection at the Cub has gotten lousier, but of course now there's nowhere else to go.)
posted by Frowner at 7:41 AM on August 10, 2015


That's about $17 a year for every man, woman and child in the U.S., and if only 30% of that is spent on candy, that's about $5 worth of candy--maybe a Snickers every three months. It's hard to believe that constitutes the "one of the biggest offenders in promoting unhealthy eating [and] facilitating diet-related disease."

Well, if each of us was just eating a Snickers every three months, that would be true. But - for example - I never buy check-out aisle stuff, and I suspect that the more affluent or educated or leisured the adult, the less they buy. That is, I don't buy junk at the checkout since I have access to better junk - either baked by me at home or even just the nicer chocolate from the actual candy aisle - and since I have more time (not that I'm wealthy, but I have no kids and a full time pink collar gig) I am less likely to have a "really hungry want food cheap chocolate" moment.

Also, I suspect that a lot of these health things are cumulative. This is just me spitballing, but I've noticed that since I quit drinking diet soda, I quit eating a lot of junk food. (I certainly eat plenty of regular food and home-made sweets; I haven't become sylph-like or anything.) I drink a little regular soda sometimes, but not often and not much. I suspect there's this whole complementary flavors/habits thing that develops when you're eating some convenience junk food regularly that tends to support eating more.

In other words, the problem may not be that everyone has a quarterly Snickers bar; it's that a lot of people have zero Snickers bars and some people - who are probably already somewhat vulnerable due to stress/lack of time/poverty - have a LOT of Snickers.
posted by Frowner at 7:48 AM on August 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


Also, I don't want fucking self-checkouts. Yeah, sure, I'd like to get rid of some of the only jobs available to people - who live in my city! who are my neighbors! who, what's more, spend money locally! - who are already marginalized, yes, that is a great idea because it makes my life fractionally more convenient and boosts Target's bottom line. Convenience, as the man said, uber alles.
posted by Frowner at 7:50 AM on August 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


Of course the high-profit-margin junk there is part of a conscious strategy and not good for you; that fact has been known for decades. For goodness' sakes, the nutrition education I got in the late 1970s or early 1980s -- and there wasn't all that much of it at that -- pointed out that the checkout lanes are chock full of "impulse items" that are mostly junk. I don't buy anything extra in the checkout aisle, ever, even if it's something I need (like a pair of nail clippers).
posted by Gelatin at 8:03 AM on August 10, 2015


yes, that is a great idea because it makes my life fractionally more convenient

Does it even do that, though? I mean, it's not like self-checkout is some kind of wondrous robot that does all the work of a human. It's just the same old system minus the conveyor belt and cashier. You're doing all the work. That's less convenient.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:34 AM on August 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


I would probably buy bananas or apples at the checkout. I buy a candy bar maybe once a year.

I hate the way stores try and sometimes succeed at fucking with me, the way they want to engineer my shopping so I buy more of the over-processed crap. It makes me not trust them, which makes me have no customer loyalty. I appreciate every article that exposes the truth, so I can arm myself against this bullshit.
posted by theora55 at 9:02 AM on August 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


> the uncomplicated soups of my childhood, your blog is not linked in your profile.
posted by theora55 at 9:13 AM on August 10, 2015


Candy sales and other checkout line sales are actually falling and have been for several years -- enough so to worry the candy companies, which is why they are coming up with crap like Hershey Bar Dispenser Gas Station Island!!! (I've seen the inside of gas pumps, and they are dirty and not temperature-controlled. Dispensing melty chocolate from them is a very silly idea.)

I'm sure online ordering and self-checkout aren't helping, but what I've been told by industry folks is that the main reason impulse sales in the checkout line are falling is that consumers have smartphones. Angry Birds > InTouch Magazine. With smartphones to play with, consumers are not as likely to be bored in checkout lines and looking at the impulse buy options.

I have seen a number of new in-store adjacencies designed for impulse buys, though -- my favorite one from this weekend was the display of anti-heartburn meds (Prilosec et al) on an endcap corner at the end of the Mexican food section at Target.
posted by pie ninja at 9:35 AM on August 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Candy sales and other checkout line sales are actually falling and have been for several years -- enough so to worry the candy companies, which is why they are coming up with crap like Hershey Bar Dispenser Gas Station Island!!! (I've seen the inside of gas pumps, and they are dirty and not temperature-controlled. Dispensing melty chocolate from them is a very silly idea.)

Also, a snootful of gas fumes doesn't exactly make me go "Hey, you know what would go real good right now? Chocolate! If only there were some right here..."
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:47 AM on August 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have seen a number of new in-store adjacencies designed for impulse buys, though

My state recently legalized recreational marijuana, and a couple miles north of me there's a free-standing pot shop with a taco truck permanently parked in the parking lot, which strikes me as a breathtaking piece of entrepreneurial genius.
posted by KathrynT at 10:11 AM on August 10, 2015 [9 favorites]


The data in the study seems behind actual current trends.

I work in the world of advertising and packaging in California.

cell phones are killing in-store impulse aisle shopping.

in addition to people staring at their phones and not grabbing things, retailers where I live and work (Oakland and Berkeley) have shifted to higher margin impulse items with flashier displays like Red Bull and Monster Energy drinks.

It's pretty rare to see a full on old school candy rack at checkout here.

The candy industry response has been a shift to prepackaged bulk. Walk down the snack and candy aisle in a major grocery chain and you will see how 40oz (and up) bags of candy now exist where 16oz bags once were... and sales are up.

The big 40oz bags are designed as pantry items so you can fill the candy dish etc... but research shows that of course people just open the bag and go for it.

We test this at the office coffee bar often. My (non-scientific) observational data is... even in Berkeley, if you leave a bigger pile of junk food out, it is consumed faster than a reasonable amount of the same junk food, especially when it's chocolate of some sort.
posted by bobdow at 12:19 PM on August 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Note there's a difference here. As a parent, I can easily see that a magazine has ad for tobacco in it. I cannot easily tell that the paint in that building uses lead based paint.

Legislation is really important when something is harmful *and* it's difficult to impossible for the typical person to know if a given item contains the harmful version or the safe version of the thing.


Except parents aren't always present when tobacco ads are present, like in grocery stores (PDF: "Tobacco Marketing That Reaches Kids: Point-Of-Sale Advertising And Promotions")
As noted above, POS advertising and promotions are particularly effective because they target consumers at the place where they can immediately buy the product . In addition to normalizing the presence of tobacco products in everyday life, tobacco company advertising at the POS encourages youth initiation and discourages cessation. In fact, the U.S. Surgeon General concluded in 2012 that the advertising and promotional efforts of the tobacco companies — including price - reducing promotions — cause the initiation and progression of tobacco use among youth.
And this has been going on for quite a while.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:24 PM on August 10, 2015


I think it's more "sneaky" to play those sappy love songs (sniff).
posted by soakimbo at 3:49 PM on August 10, 2015


Produce is by far the most underused candy location in a store,” says David Tucci, executive director for Consolidated Sales Network.

I know, right? The only candy I can buy in the produce section is caramel dip and marshmallow fluff. Oh and chocolate covered nuts. Oh and plastic boxes full of candy-coated pretzels and trail mix with M&Ms and white chocolate snack mix. Dear oh dear, not a Mars bar in sight.

Still, I do think they need more candy by the meat section. Oh and the pet food section is woefully devoid of snacks for humans. The paper good aisle has no toffee of any kind and the shampoo section could use some twizzlers. If they were really thinking this through they would stick the giant "family-size" bags of peanut M&Ms right next to the tampons.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:26 PM on August 10, 2015


my favorite one from this weekend was the display of anti-heartburn meds (Prilosec et al) on an endcap corner at the end of the Mexican food section at Target.

My fave of all time so far has to be this one I caught at Safeway one night.
posted by ctmf at 4:51 PM on August 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


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