Crisps take a bite out of Tesco’s claim to healthy checkout shelves

People buy products on how they are marketed and not on their nutritional value

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Tesco has been criticised by doctors and dieticians after it emerged that its “sweet free” checkout aisles – designed to help prevent children pestering parents into buying sweets and chocolate – still contain crisps.

Crisps and other junk foods, which several stores including Tesco banned from checkout aisles in January, were spotted being marketed by a till as “healthy” by consultant cardiologist and Tesco shopper Dr Aseem Malhotra, who shared a picture of the store’s shelves on Twitter. Doctor and science writer Ben Goldacre also tweeted: “There is only one explanation. Someone in Tescos is a joker.” A spokesperson for the supermarket initially claimed the mistake had been made by one store, but when The Independent visited another outlet, in London’s Kensington, crisps also appeared on the route to the checkout, displayed next to natural foods such as nuts and dried fruits.

It is the second healthy eating gaffe for the retail giant in less than a week. On Monday, Tesco was forced to withdraw an in-store raffle for its charity partner Diabetes UK because the ill-advised prize was a large hamper of chocolate Easter eggs.

 

Tesco’s sweet-free checkouts were designed to help stop customers making last-minute purchases which were bad for their health. At the time, managing director David Wood said the move was in response to customers who said “that removing sweets and chocolates from checkouts would help them make healthier choices”. The supermarket claims that some packets of crisps meet the criteria for display on these healthier shelves because they have no “red traffic light” ratings on their nutritional information. However, experts say these products are just as unhealthy as banned sweets and chocolates.

“I think it’s misleading for consumers. We know that the food industry has marketed products as healthy when often they are completely the opposite. The food industry knows and retailers know that people buy products on how they are marketed and not on their nutritional value,” said Dr Malhotra.He said removing chocolates from sweet-free aisles should not “mean replacing it with other junk food”, and was particularly concerned about placing low-fat-crisp brands next to natural foods such a fruit and nuts. “These are still processed foods. We need to move towards people eating a lot more whole foods and a so-called ‘healthy baked crisp’ is not one of those foods. I think it’s misleading and it gives a health-halo effect.”

A spokesperson for Tesco said the company shared “the same objectives” as Dr Malhotra and hoped other retailers would also introduce a healthier selection near the checkout. “We’ve done our research and are confident that we’ve replaced sweets and chocolates on the checkouts with a wide variety of healthier snacks that appeal to customers including wholefoods,” he said.

Dr Duane Mellor, a spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, said the red-traffic-light system could not be guaranteed to encourage healthy choices because processed foods with amber ratings still contained “quite a lot of fat, salt and other things.

“Ideally we want fresh stuff at the checkouts.” 

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