Good-bye, Snickers. Hello, Cashews: Target Ditches Checkout Aisle Junk Food

A pilot program from the big-box retailer will put more good-for-you treats in front of waiting shoppers.

(Photo: Flickr)

Sep 16, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Chocolate bars, candy, bubble gum, and soda—whether or not you worked up an appetite pushing a shopping cart around a big-box store, once you get to the checkout lane, there’s usually a variety of sugary items on display right next to you. Tempting you. Testing your impulse control. If you have a kid tagging along with you while you shop, you might have to contend with some serious whining and crying for something sweet.

That scenario could soon disappear at Target stores thanks to a pilot program that’s rolling out in 30 locations starting Oct. 1. Instead of the usual sugar- or salt-laden treats and beverages, Target’s going to offer folks waiting in the checkout lane more nutritious options, such as granola bars and nuts. (A representative for Target clarified in an email on Thursday that they're not completely eliminating the chocolate bars and candy, but will be "increasing the presence of better-for-you options on the shelves.")

"We feel like we need to make the healthy option the default option," Christina Hennington, the company’s senior vice president of merchandising, said on Tuesday, reported the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

How prevalent is junk food at the checkout counter? A 2013 study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago studied the checkout offerings of 8,617 stores in 468 cities. They found that 88 percent of stores displayed candy for shoppers waiting to pay, and all stores were more likely to display sweetened carbonated beverages than water.

Junk food being in that narrow queue where you have to wait to pay is no accident. “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,” wrote the authors of a report released in August from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit that advocates for healthier options.

The report details how the food industry deliberately uses checkout lanes to peddle unhealthy products and boost profits. “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,” the center's authors wrote.

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Target’s move toward nixing junk at the checkout comes as obesity-plagued people around the globe are looking to improve their well-being. A report released in January by Nielsen found that 59 percent of North Americans are cutting sugar and chocolates and 46 percent are eating fewer processed foods—all in the hopes of getting healthier.

But Hennington said that the researchers don’t intend to be “preachy” about nixing candy and soda. "We are testing the envelope to see how far we can push it without annoying our guests," she told the Star Tribune. "They don't want us to tell them how to live their lives."