Asda PR slips up on live radio revealing two-thirds of checkouts are 'guilty' (surrounded by sweets and chocolate)


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The Independent Online

It was supposed to be a day for supermarkets to trumpet the easy way to ensure healthy eating through the near-universal adoption of a new food labelling system. Unfortunately for Asda, its communications chief didn't manage to keep to the script.

Sian Jarvis inadvertently admitted that two-thirds of the chain's stores are still "guilty," as they say in the trade – guilty of flooding their checkouts with confectionery. Critics say this encourages shoppers to overindulge on sweets and children to wrangle chocolate out of worn-down parents. It was during an interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Ms Jarvis proudly announced: "One in three of our checkouts are what we call guilt-free checkouts."

Spotting the statistic underlying the spin, however, presenter James Naughtie quickly highlighted the rather more embarrassing truth of the statistic. "If you're telling me that one out of three Asda checkouts are guilt-free," he said, "then by your terminology two out of three are guilty. Two out of three are guilt-laden and one is guilt-free."

Challenged on whether Asda – which is far from alone in promoting tasty but fat and sugar-laden products at its tills – would consider removing confectionery, Ms Jarvis said that it "will be looking at that as part of the responsibility deal".

The debate followed a warm welcome from health campaigners to a new government-backed food labelling system which will standardise the baffling array of front-of-pack designs which have confused shoppers for years. All the major supermarket chains bar Iceland have indicated that from next year they will use the scheme on everything from breakfast cereals to pizzas.

Under the scheme, announced by the Department of Health yesterday morning, colours show "high", "medium" and "low" levels of fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar as well as the percentages of daily recommended amounts in each product.

Public Health minister, Anna Soubry, said: "By having a consistent system we will all be able to see at a glance what is in our food. This will help us all choose healthier options and control our calorie intake."

Peter Hollins, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, said: "This is a quantum leap for public health."