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Sweets companies are attacked for 'impulse' displays

Britain's leading chocolate and sweets manufacturer yesterday defended the practice of targeting 'impulse-buyers' - particularly women with children - by putting displays near check-out tills in shops and supermarkets.

The latest review of the UK chocolate and sweets market, published by Cadbury-Schweppes and Trebor Bassett, urges retailers to boost sales by placing sweets in 'highly visible' locations such as tills. It says that this can increase sales by more than 30 per cent.

However, the practice has come under growing criticism from consumer groups, which argue that it increases sales at the expense of dental health, sensible eating and parental peace of mind.

Last month, Action and Information on Sugars, an alliance of health professionals and parents' groups, launched a campaign to turn 50 per cent of supermarket check-outs into confectionery-free zones.

Manufacturers do not regard impulse-buying as an issue. Alan Palmer, marketing director of Trebor Bassett, said: 'A parent is the person who ultimately decides what a child chooses in any part of the store. The parent can always say no.'

However, the reviews acknowledge that buying chocolate is 'rarely a rational, thought-out process. Most chocolate purchases are still made on impulse, and even planned purchasing has a lot to do with treating yourself or someone close to you'.

According to Action and Information on Sugars, one in three five-year-olds has tooth decay, with frequent snacking the chief culprit. This may have been encouraged by the popularity of 'bite-sized' bars, bought in bags, and described by Cadbury- Schweppes as 'the success story of the late 1980s'.

Impulse sales play a large part in Britain's pounds 4bn confectionery market, with an average of 53 per cent of purchases classed as impulse or semi-impulse. Thirty per cent of adult purchases for children are unplanned (no purchase intended) and 34 per cent are semi-impulse (purchase intended but brand not planned).

However, the proportion of impulse-buying rises to 58 per cent in the supermarket chains and 59 per cent in the confectionery multiples. The highest figure, 60 per cent, is in petrol stations, where sweet sales grew almost 15 per cent last year.

Among the big store chains, Marks & Spencer sells confectionery at check-outs but Sainsbury and Waitrose do not. Safeway provides some sweet-free check-outs, Tesco and Kwik Save display sweets on aisles.

The Trebor Bassett review urges retailers to 'take advantage of the high impulse levels in sweet purchasing by siting displays in highly visible locations.' Putting the eight leading mints in a bar next to a till has led to a sales increase of 31 per cent, it adds.

The average Briton eats more than 27lbs (12.5 kg) of sweets and chocolates every year, putting the UK fourth in a league table of 17 developed countries. Japan consumes least because the Japanese favour savoury rice-based snacks.