CVS Health a corporation that operates nearly 8,000 drug stores nationwide, got some great PR recently by announcing that the chain would no longer sell cigarettes and other tobacco products. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (SCPI) would like to see corporations such as CVS Health go even further and discontinue sales of junk food and candy as well. The consumer advocacy group just released a study concluding that impulse buys of unhealthy foods displayed at the checkout counter promote obesity.
Unhealthy checkout choices
The CSPI analyzed products displayed at the checkout aisles of 30 retailers in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. The locations included supermarkets, convenience stores, dollar stores, drug stores and non-grocery stores.
For the study, foods such as fruit, vegetables and nuts were categorized as healthy. “Healthier” foods included products such as granola bars and trail mix that contained nuts, dried fruit or whole grains. Unhealthy foods included candy, energy bars, chips, cookies, cakes, jerky and hot food such as pizza, hot dogs and chicken wings.
According to the CSPI, 90 percent of the food choices displayed at checkout were unhealthy, 8 percent were healthier and 2 percent were healthy. Sodas and sweetened drinks made up 60 percent of the beverages offered.
Sabotage at Old Navy
Retailers not normally associated with food were also included in the study and 86 percent of them offered junk food at checkout. For example, you can find a variety of chocolate candy bars at the checkout counter in Bed, Bath & Beyond. Shop at Old Navy and be tempted by such candies as Air Heads, Pop Rocks and Mentos.
“Americans have a hard enough time maintaining healthy weights without retailers sabotaging their efforts,” said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan in a press release. “It’s bad enough that supermarkets display soda and chips to prompt unplanned purchases at checkout. But why are so many stores pushing candy bars on people buying towels, toys or kids’ clothes?”
Tobacco vs. junk food
Forbes predicted that CVS Health would lose about $2 billion by forsaking the revenue stream of tobacco products. However, increased business over time from people willing to shop there after tobacco is gone is expected to make up for the loss.
When the drug retailer announced its anti-tobacco commitment, The Huffington Post reported that CVS executives actually considered getting rid of junk food and sodas as well. However, after “consulting medical experts” they decided to table the notion with the rationale that sugary candy and sodas haven’t been proven to cause medical harm in “moderation.”
Moderation has always been the problem when it comes to sugar intake for the average American. To make it a little easier for consumers to resist their sugar jag, the CSPI recommended that retailers offer healthier foods at the checkout line and display the junk food somewhere else.
Perhaps that could be the next step for CVS Health. But don’t hold your breath. Critics have said that with tobacco use declining, going tobacco free wasn’t that great a risk for CVS Health. However, the profits made from impulse buys at checkout are still too sweet to resist.