Parents seeking refuge from the pestering of their children while grocery shopping will soon find sanctuary in the aisles of Asda, the supermarket chain, which is to remove sweets from some of its checkouts.
Penny Coates, the private-label director of Asda, said yesterday that healthier snacks and pieces of fruit will replace sweets and crisps at checkouts on a trial basis in January. Ms Coates told MPs on the Health Select Committee: "We are just about to start a trial including more non-food items and fruit."
Asda, which has 265 stores in England, Wales and Scotland, was recently named the "worst offender" in a Food Commission survey of supermarket sweet displays targeting children. Asda is reviewing its checkout policy and will try "a number of sweet-free checkouts per store". A medium-sized store of twenty checkouts might have four or five sweet-free tills, which would be marked as healthy checkouts.
The announcement follows the launch in October of a "Chuck Snacks Off the Checkout" campaign by the Parents Jury, a pressure group of mums and dads demanding healthier food for their children. Its survey of major supermarkets found that Asda had an average of 2.4 displays of sweets, crisps or soft drinks at its checkouts.
A similar Food Commission campaign 10 years ago persuaded Sainsbury's, Waitrose, Tesco and Safeway to remove sweets from their checkouts. However, all but Waitrose re-introduced sweets after manufacturers warned that removing confectionery from point-of-sale displays could lose about 30 per cent in revenue. A Waitrose spokesperson said: "We have a policy in store not to merchandise items which could be considered impulse purchases such as sweets and chocolate at our checkouts. As well as providing an uncluttered environment for shoppers we believe customers appreciate the fact that we do not distract their children at checkouts, which could lead to so-called pester power."
Pester power has taxed the most patient of parents, with the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, a father of two, recently saying that the conscious targeting of young people "makes me wince".
Annie Seeley, who coordinates the Parents Jury, said the campaign was prompted by numerous complaints from parents concerned about the link between unhealthy foods and obesity, which now affects one in five children. Ms Seeley said: "Many of the parents were particularly angry that retailers seemed to deliberately display snacks and soft drinks low down where they are within easy reach of children."
The Parents Jury, which has 2,000 members, also successfully lobbied the BBC this year to scrap promotions for fast-food outlets between children's programmes.