MORRISONS nudged online shoppers towards unhealthy snacks more times than any other supermarket in test purchases while Sainsbury’s was most likely to push customers towards alcohol.

The first study of its kind in Scotland found online supermarket shoppers are bombarded by around 500 promotions during the average online grocery shop such as multi-buy offers. More than a fifth ( 21%) encouraged shoppers towards snacks that are high in sugar, salt or fat while a tenth were for alcoholic drinks.

Sweets,crisps and ice-cream and soft drinks were the ‘discretionary’ items most widely pushed by Waitrose, Tesco, Asda, Iceland, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s.

The Herald:

Campaign group Obesity Action Scotland, which carried out the research, said the findings strengthened the case for “urgent” restrictions on the promotion of unhealthy food and alcohol by supermarkets, given the country’s obesity epidemic and “poor” national diet. Their plea has been backed by Alcohol Focus Scotland, pointing to figures which show around three quarters of people buy alcohol from supermarkets.

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The Scottish Government said it remained committed to introducing legislation ‘as soon as possible’.

Test purchasers in Glasgow were used to collect data in March, shortly before lockdown in March last year and in November and December.

A total of 18 online shopping episodes were analysed using two different baskets: one had only healthy food and drink products while another had a more typical mix of healthy and unhealthier food and alcohol.

Researchers found that the average grocery shopping experience involved 510 promotions, of which 61% were non-monetary and 39% were price-related such as multi-buy offers.

Asda, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose were more likely to push the ‘healthy’ shoppers towards junk food  and Sainsbury’s did this the most.

“Although we hypothesised that a smaller proportion of discretionary product and alcohol promotions would be offered when shopping for the healthy basket items compared to the standard basket items, we saw no indication of this for discretionary food and drink and only a small effect for alcohol.”

The Herald:

Promotions for junk food were almost double in stores, where around 40% directed customers to sugary and high calorie snacks.The charity said the online figure of 21% was  likely to be higher because testers used new shopping accounts with limited opportunity for targeted advertising.

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Temporary price reduction was the most frequently employed type of price promotion by all six supermarkets followed by multi-buy offers.

Perhaps unsurprisingly unhealthy food and alcohol was more markedly promoted in the run up to Christmas in November and December than in March with alcohol most likely to be pushed.

The Herald:

Obesity Action Scotland said none of the supermarkets responded to the survey and the firms did not provide any comment when contacted by The Herald.

Lorraine Tulloch, Programme Lead of Obesity Action Scotland said: “Our new survey reveals that unhealthy food and drink and alcohol are actively promoted in online retail just like they are in-store.

“While Scottish Government’s plans to introduce restrictions to HFSS food and drink promotions were put on hold due to outbreak of the pandemic, the promotions have not been put on hold and keep influencing shoppers both online and in-store.

“The introduction of these restrictions is urgent if we want to ensure the healthy choice is the easiest choice for all consumers to improve their diet and their health.

“It will be important that regulation is bold and wide ranging to take account of the varying types of promotion employed by different supermarkets.

“We recognize that supermarkets have helped ensure food supplies during a very difficult year but they must also ensure they take responsibility and improve their service to support and enable our good health.”

The Herald:

Out of 200 price promotions, 114 (57%) were temporary price cuts, 78 (39%) were multi-buys, 6 (3%) loyalty scheme points and 2 (1%) meal deals.

Non-monetary promotions offered were most likely to appear at the stage of selecting basket items but supermarkets varied widely in their approach.

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Sainsbury’s was the only supermarket to offer loyalty scheme points and almost no multi-buy promotions.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland said, “In Scotland multi-buy deals for alcohol are banned, however this research from Obesity Action Scotland demonstrates that other types of promotion, such as price discounting, are still widely used.

"In Scotland we buy nearly three quarters of all our alcohol in the off-trade including supermarkets.

"Over the last year more of us have been shopping online where we are regularly exposed to these kinds of promotions, encouraging us to buy even more alcohol.

“The heavy marketing and promotion of alcohol encourages impulse purchases and implies that alcohol is a normal part of everyday life. The reality is that alcohol causes the deaths of 10 Scots every day, as well as a number of serious health conditions including breast and bowel cancer, heart disease and stroke. As with unhealthy food, we need action to introduce a comprehensive approach to restricting alcohol promotions both in store and online.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Tackling obesity remains a public health priority so we welcome this report from Obesity Action Scotland detailing the frequency of price promotions for unhealthy foods in online grocery shopping.

“We want to make it easier for people to make healthier choices and to reduce health harm caused by poor diet and excess weight and we know that junk food promotions encourage over-consumption and impulse buying.

“We remain committed to introducing legislation on restricting promotions of foods high in fat, sugar or salt, as soon as possible.”