The Salty Seduction of Supermarket Snacks

How size & spacing of snack foods influences our shopping experience

Walking into a supermarket, it seems impossible to avoid the onslaught of sugary, salty and fatty foods. Chips. Chocolates. Candy. Soft drinks. These products entice us with their perfect display.

I know I’m not immune.

Getting into the blogging spirit, I went on a reconnaissance mission and visited two major supermarket chains. How bad could this super-sized shopping environment be?

At first the mountainous snack foods appeared over the top and comical. However, my take-away snappy shots were capturing a serious problem. It was frightening.

Can we blame ourselves for foraging on chips and chocolates when we’re associating food with this environment?

Supermarkets are a main source of food for most Melbournian households. They are located in close proximity to our homes, and provide ease and convenience. However, environmental factors impact our dietary behaviour.

With so many people buying food from their local supermarket, they become an influential place for the public’s diet, and an important consideration for health and nutrition research.

Aren’t supermarket people meant to be the fresh food people?

One Melbourne supermarket audit showed it has 1070 snack food items and 863 different beverages available. 70% of these were considered inconsistent with a healthy diet.

Evidence is showing a correlation between the purchase of highly processed snack foods and obesity. Rates of obesity and non-communicable diseases are rising in Australia.

While these snack food items are labeled as discretionary choices in our Australian Dietary Guidelines. There is nothing discretionary here.

Impulsive shopping purchases are often unhealthy and influenced by in store displays and promotions. Food companies know it. Supermarkets parade snack foods at the entrance, end of aisles display, in island bins, at the checkout, and in designated snack food aisles. Nowhere is immune. Study

Research has shown that Australian supermarkets dedicate 45.8 meters of shelf space to energy dense snack foods.We have 18.4 meters allocated for soft drinks alone. These figures only leave Australia behind the United Kingdom in allocated space to snack foods, and we beat out the United States, Canada and every other developed nation in the study.

Supermarket corporations have even studied lighting, music, spacing of tables or shelves, and width of aisles. They create selling environments. Study

Where is the real food? 

Shouldn’t we be surrounding ourselves in a shopping environment that is supportive of a healthy lifestyle?

People should not feel responsible for poor food choices when these unhealthy foods are paraded in front of us. It isn’t easy changing eating practices on our own.

Don’t we want to be able to go the local shops and feel happy in selecting fresh and wholesome foods? We need government policies which are supportive of us as the consumer  – not the corporation.

8 Responses to “The Salty Seduction of Supermarket Snacks”

  1. awylde says:

    Hey Megan. Really interesting piece. I loved the alliteration in the title, really drew me in. Amazing and quite disturbing to hear how much space we dedicate to junk food in our supermarkets. These days I never walk down the snacks and soft drink aisles because, even though I’m well aware of the terrible health effects, I know I’ll get sucked into buying whatever is on special. I feel for the poor mums and dads who take their kids down these aisles.

  2. Rebecca Vincent says:

    an excellent piece and an enjoyable read!

  3. iwallace says:

    Hi Megan.
    Loved this piece as its so relatable! ‘Junk’ foods are normally the first and last things I see when I go to the supermarket, and whilst I’m sure most of us try to resist the temptation, there are so many factors working against us. Just as the food companies would hope!
    I hope in the future we can see a shift, where fresh, healthy and organic foods take centre stage in the shops!

  4. Megan Clarke says:

    Yeah, once you notice the amount of junk food around it’s pretty extreme Debbie.
    Glad your local supermarket has taken some action – I wonder what influenced their decision and who decides product placement in stores. I agree with you – let’s hope others do the same.

  5. Debbie says:

    Anyone who has seen a child in a supermarket would completely agree with you – it can be a nightmare getting through the store without passing some form of junk food.
    I was really pleased to see that my local supermarket has moved their junk food section to the far end of the store, and they have even moved sugary cereals (like cocoa pops and fruit loops) there too! Hopefully, more supermarkets will follow this lead.

  6. Megan Clarke says:

    Thanks for the comments Richard and Will.
    The majority of our food choices are made unconsciously – where habits can be difficult to change.
    So I feel like shopping somewhere else and avoidance is the best way – as Richard says he tries to shop at the South Melbourne market. There are more places popping up where we can buy in bulk (which cuts back on plastics too). Great to support alternative food systems and investigate what other shops are near you.

    Going into the supermarket though, I think taking a shopping list – as simple as it sounds & not purchasing anything impulsively. Walk around the outside where the fresh produce & fridges are located. Do you, or anyone else have more ideas?
    Our food environment is so important in food choices. We should be pressuring better government policies to not give so much power and control to corporations in marketing etc., governments should support the consumption of healthy foods.

  7. Will McDonald says:

    This was really well thought out Megan, do you have any suggestions about how to avoid getting fooled?

  8. Richard Proudlove says:

    Hi Megan. Good piece. Supermarkets definitely think very hard about where they position things. This is why you normally walk into the fruit and veg section first and the toilet paper aisle is last. We try to avoid supermarkets and use South Melbourne Market instead. When I do occasionally walk into our local supermarket, I am not just overwhelmed by the amount of junk food but also by the HUGE amounts of plastic. It is very disheartening.