More supermarket promotions on less healthy food

As new research finds supermarkets have more promotions on less healthy food and drink, Which? says retailers must play their part in the fight against obesity.

Which? analysed data collected by mySupermarket on the number of promotions across the major supermarkets between April and June this year. Of the 77,165 promotions where nutritional data was available, we found that over half (53%) were on less healthy foods compared to healthier products (47%).

When comparing different food groups, Which? found that more than half (52%) of confectionery was on offer compared to only around a third of fresh fruit and vegetables (30% and 34% respectively). Seven in ten (69%) soft drinks that would fall under the higher sugar band category (more than 8% sugar) of the Government’s proposed sugar tax were also on promotion.

In a separate survey, Which? found three In ten people (29%) say they find it difficult to eat healthily as they think healthier food is more expensive than less healthy food. This was the top reason given for not eating more healthily.

Half (51%) said supermarkets should include more healthier choices in promotions to make it easier for people to choose healthier food. This was the top action people wanted from supermarkets, followed by making healthier options cheaper (49%) and making foods with less fat, sugar and salt (49%).

In a snapshot study of supermarkets, high street stores, clothes shops, chemists and toy shops in May, Which? also found that confectionery and other unhealthy snacks and fizzy drinks were still being promoted at the checkout.

Which? is calling for retailers to include more healthier options in their price promotions and remove less healthy foods from their checkouts. The Government should also publish its Childhood Obesity Strategy as soon as possible and, as part of a range of measures, hold retailers to account for the promotion of less healthy foods if they fail to improve.

Alex Neill, Which? Director of Campaigns and Policy, said:

“Everybody has to play their part in the fight against obesity and people want supermarkets to offer more promotions on healthier foods and yet our research found the opposite.

“It’s time for supermarkets to shift the balance of products they include in price promotions and for all retailers to get rid of temptation at the till by taking sweets off the checkout.”


  1. Data and offers – MySupermarket provided Which? with data on the balance of healthier and less healthy promotions on price promotions available in ASDA, Morrisons, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose between 1st April and 30th June 2016. My Supermarket collected data on all products on sale on online sites, including promotions. Of the 77,165 promotions where nutritional data was available, we found that over half (53%) were on less healthy foods compared to healthier products (47%).
  2. Healthier vs less healthy foods – Calculation of ‘healthier’ and ‘less healthy’ is based on the traffic light nutrition labeling scheme. Fresh, unprocessed fruit and vegetables were automatically categorised into the healthier category. Otherwise, the rule for determining healthier and less healthy products was as follows: If any of the four nutrients included in the traffic light label (fat, saturates, sugars and salt) has a red light then the product will fall into the less-healthy category with one exception: products that only score one red for fat – if it scored a green for saturated fat, then it was considered healthier.  Products without full information on the four traffic lights nutrients were excluded from the research. This varied between supermarkets.
  3. Which? survey –  Research Now, on behalf of Which?, interviewed 2003 UK adults online between 20th May and 26th May 2016. Data was weighted to be demographically representative of the UK population.
  4. Checkout spot-check: Which? visited supermarkets, high street retailers, chemists and children-focused stores across England, Scotland and Wales to monitor the presence of less healthy food and drinks stored at checkouts. We found that confectionery and other unhealthy foods, such as snacks and fizzy drinks, are still being promoted at the till by some supermarkets and other retailers.

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