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Grocer bans candy at checkouts

January 15, 2014

Depending on the spin, Lidl is either the first or among the first grocery chains operating in the U.K. to remove candy from all its checkout lanes.

Last year, the limited assortment grocer announced it was reducing the number of checkouts with candy, pointing to a study conducted with customers, which showed 70 percent preferred to use a "healthy till" when family food shopping.

In response, Lidl replaced chocolates and other "treats" with fresh fruit and juice in some of its stores as part of an initiative to promote healthier foods to its customers. The result, according to Lidl, was that sales at its healthy checkouts performed better than those with candy. That performance, in turn, led Lidl to announce it was removing candy from all its checkouts in all its stores across the U.K.

"We know how difficult it can be to say no to pester power, so by removing sweets and chocolates from our tills we can make it easier for parents to reward children in healthier ways," Ronny Gottschlich, managing director, Lidl U.K., told the Guardian.

Both Tesco and Sainsbury's, according to the Guardian, have removed sweets from their supermarket checkouts. The chains continue to sell candy near registers in their convenience stores.

Discussion Questions:

Would a full out ban of candy at the checkout work for mainstream grocers in the U.S.? If you were removing sweets from the front end, what products would you use to replace them?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Do you think consumers in the U.S. would support or oppose removing candy from checkouts in food stores?


There is obviously a group of shoppers who would prefer to have something healthy. There's also a group who would probably not mind having candy. I see two good options, either make some with candy and some with healthier alternatives or test candy removal and see what happens.

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Dr. Stephen Needel, Managing Partner, Advanced Simulations

A successful retailer appeals to the demands of their customer, they don't try to force them. While shoppers may appreciate being offered healthier impulse items, I'm sure the vast majority would prefer being able to make that choice for themselves.

Eric Chester, Keynote Speaker, Author, Reviving Work Ethic, LLC

My first instinct was "no way." But the more I think about it, I think stores in some demographic areas might want to test it and see what happens, replacing the treats with grab-and-go, healthier, impulse snacks. Or, maybe just integrating some healthier snacks with the candy bars etc. Not saying it would work, but it might in some cases produce nearly the same results that Lidl got. If I were shopping with my wife, for example, she'd slap my hand when I reached for the chocolate bar and give me an apple. And I wouldn't really mind because I know she'd be right (as usual).

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Warren Thayer, Editorial Director & Co-Founder, Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer

I see several options (all outlined by previous responses). Do what Lidl did and replace the candy with healthier snacks. Intermix candy and healthier snacks as Warren suggested. Follow Stephen's suggest of having a mixture of checkout options or finally leaving the checkout items as they are now.

Customers deserve the right to make a decision as to what works for them (and so do supermarkets). Bottom line, I can see consumers electing to use the checkout of their choice (assuming some variation in items displayed) but I don't see anyone changing supermarkets because of the items carried at their checkouts.

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Steve Montgomery, President, b2b Solutions, LLC

It would depend on the demographics. I was in Trader Joe's last night and I don't think they have any kind of candy at their checkouts. And Whole Foods as well. These are both very high sales per square foot stores catering to a better educated and higher income consumer. Those catering to the opposite might want to keep the candy. Those in the middle might offer two options. Really, it could be just as simple as replacing candy with healthy snacks.

David Livingston, Principal, DJL Research

I don't understand the "will it work?" question. Will parents be able to placate their kids with sugar if there's no candy to buy during the checkout wait? Is fruit better for kids than candy? Seems to me there's not much discussion to be had here.

Putting fruit etc. there instead is a low-hanging solution, and books would be a good idea too?

But isn't the real question focused on retailer's willingness and courage to actually do (or try) something different and disruptive? In North America as a whole, we love to see ourselves as leading innovation and change around the world and yet the brutal reality is we resist actual change and transformation more than just about anyone...even if it would be a good thing to do like stopping our often obese kids from mainlining sugar.

This has little to do with candy at the checkout, but I'm fond of illustrating the point above by referring to the concrete industry where, according to the industry's Strategic Development Council in the US, it "typically takes about 15 years for new concrete technology to become widely available to the marketplace."

The punch line from this newsletter was this statement: "...the industry is committed to reduce that time to two years by the year 2030." In other words the plan is to take almost 20 years (from the time this was published) to help change happen 13 years faster. Something tells me it won't work.

Back to the checkout issue...we removed cigarettes from the checkout lane and most people survived that trauma. Let's do it with candy as well!

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Ian Percy, President, The Ian Percy Corporation

I hate the word ban in this question. It infers that the government knows best what is good for us. Once I get passed the inferred part of the question, I think the market will tell retailers what action to take. If there is a better group of items to place near the checkout lines, sales and customer comments will determine what works best.

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Mel Kleiman, President, Humetrics

It would be understandable if a grocer did this as part of a total statement about healthy foods in their store. However, they have to understand the impact.

We have done extensive work at the checkout as part of our Front-End Focus research. Candy represents about a third of all checkout sales. Moreover, candy is purchased at the checkout at least occasionally by about 75% of shoppers.

While consumers may deny it, we have found that buying a candy bar at the checkout is a often a small reward for their time and effort. By removing candy from the checkout, a retailer may incur substantial loss of revenue and reduce shopper satisfaction with the overall experience.

Raymond D. Jones, Managing Director, Dechert-Hampe & Co.

There will never be a ban on candy at the checkout. Not only is it lucrative in terms of sales, it is perhaps the most lucrative real estate in the store that manufactures pay for.

Ray Jones (above) says 75% of the shoppers occasionally buy...how many sections in the store meet the needs of such a large percent of the shoppers?

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Gene Detroyer, Professor, Independent

Oh, I think most grocers know very well from experience what product placement works for their specific customers' impulses and needs and what sells for a quick profit at checkout, storefront and end-cap. Single-serve candy is not the problem with America's health. The social engineering needs to stop.


David: at our Trader Joe's in Northern California, there is usually candy at the register. Really good chocolate, typically. It gets me every time, even without "pester power" of the kids...and I think it would be a shame for them to remove it.

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Jonathan Marek, Senior Vice President, Applied Predictive Technologies

I'm with Ray Jones and Gene Detroyer on this. Having done several merchandising studies on the checkout space and knowing how merchandising budgets work, I don't see how a retailer who has been merchandising confections at the checkout will walk away from the margin and the rent.

Cigarettes were moved for other reasons. And the "healthy checkout alternative" is really tough to pull off.

Only those retailers who have a history of doing this will avoid negative consumer reactions. U.S. shoppers expect confections at the checkout.

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Dan Raftery, President, Raftery Resource Network Inc.

I don't think that a full ban works, but there are plenty of retailers who are already experimenting with different items in the checkout lanes. I'm thinking of Target off the top of my head, with some "healthy" impulse lanes, the beef jerky lane, some gift card and non-food impulse lanes, and some regular soda and candy lanes.

As a consumer, I love having the option to go junk food or non junk food, and I almost always find something in the non-food impulse lanes (like batteries, nail clippers, scissors, etc.).

The only reason I think there would be to ban it all together was if like Lidl says, they found that their non-candy lanes performed better.

Concetta Phillipps, Student, Keller Graduate School

In reading over the comments of fellow contributors, there is a common thought that consumers should have choice and no one should be telling me what I can buy or not buy, do and not do. That of course is the American way. What never seems to make it to the discussion table is the role and perhaps responsibility of the "common good."

The issue is where do we draw the common good line IF we want one at all? If the goal is solely to promote one last purchase at checkout do we want to open the floodgates? I'm old enough to remember when we could get cigarettes at the checkout and girlie mags as well...not that I ever did of course. I doubt anyone will want to revert to the 'good old days' but I certainly remember the hue and cry about retailers losing money on cigarettes especially. Fact is consumers were told what they could and couldn't buy. So what is different here?

The knee-jerk response is that candy will never kill anyone. But then again we have the second fattest population on earth (at 31.8% of the population; we recently lost to Mexico at 32.8%) and obesity and diabetes are incredibly costly on many levels. I'm just saying that what seemed initially to be a rather superficial discussion may have more significance than we know. "Give the customer whatever they want" is far too easy an answer.

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Ian Percy, President, The Ian Percy Corporation

David, my Trader Joe's in Atlanta also has chocolate and mints at each checkout.

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Dr. Stephen Needel, Managing Partner, Advanced Simulations

Gosh, we tested removing candy from checkouts at both Kroger and Safeway eons ago. Didn't prove out for either chain. At Raley's in Sacramento back in the 90s we sort of did a reverse test of "pester power." In selected stores, we placed cereals on one side of an aisle and toys on the other side of the same aisle. Yikes! We heard from our mom customers right away and reset those aisles.

M. Jericho Banks PhD, President, CEO, Forensic Marketing LLC

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