Nasty Nudge - Our Campaign for Change

The Scottish Government committed to the introduction of legislation restricting promotions of products high in fat, sugar and/or salt (also called discretionary food and drink).

Nasty Nudge

The Scottish Government committed to the introduction of legislation restricting promotions of products high in fat, sugar and/or salt (also called discretionary food and drink). Discretionary food and drink are products that we do not need in our diet, for example sugary drinks, crisps or confectionery. We know that in Scotland we consume too many discretionary products.

We therefore conducted a survey to see how unhealthy food and drink are promoted in Scotland.  We analysed in-store promotions in four Glasgow grocery stores and found that 40% of food and drink sold on promotion was unhealthy. The survey included both price promotions and non-monetary promotions.

The survey found that:

  • 65% of all promotions were price promotions such as meal deals, temporary price reductions and multibuys. The remaining 35% were non-monetary promotions including end of aisle displays, checkout displays, prominent price tags, displays on front window and entrance, and bins
  • The visited stores used very different numbers of food and drink promotions: while one store had 812 promotions, another had only 112. Additionally, the stores did not use the same promotions: one store did not use multibuys and another did not use meal deals
  • The most often promoted category of unhealthy food was confectionery, followed by soft drinks with added sugar and crisps
  • Types of promotions most often used to promote unhealthy food were meal deals, followed by end of aisle displays and temporary price reductions

Following on from this, we also wanted to find out more about how promotions are applied in an online retail environment, and how often different types of promotions are used. This is of particular interest currently, as online grocery shopping has greatly increased during the recent Covid-19 pandemic. 

Our latest survey provides the first Scotland-based analysis of food and drink promotions in an online retail environment. Conducted at two time points in 2020, the survey captured online grocery retail environment just before the first COVID-19 lockdown and then was repeated at the end of the year. The survey included 6 online supermarkets (all that delivered shopping in mainland Scotland in March 2020) and used two shopping lists to collect data on food and drink promotions based on 18 separate shopping events. 

The key findings were:

  • During an average online shopping event a shopper in our survey was exposed to 510 promotions, of which 61% were non-monetary and 39% were price promotions.
  • Around a fifth (21%) of all promotions were for discretionary (unhealthy) products and around a tenth (11%) for alcohol. Most often promoted discretionary products were confectionery, crisps, ice-cream and dairy desserts, and soft drinks.
  • Supermarkets employed different combinations of price promotions and non-monetary promotions, demonstrating that many combinations work. This suggests that the introduction of restrictions to only some types of promotions is likely to lead to compensation with other types.
  • There was clear seasonal trend for food and drink promotions with more in November/December than in March 2020. The trend was stronger for discretionary products and for alcohol than for food and drink in general.
  • Temporary price reduction was the most frequently employed type of price promotion (57% of price promotions). The most frequently employed non-monetary promotion was location on product landing pages and in the search results. However, there were large variations between the supermarkets in numbers and types of promotions used.

Obesity Action Scotland call on the Scottish Government to introduce comprehensive restrictions on the promotion of discretionary food and drink. The more comprehensive the restrictions, the bigger the potential improvement of the population’s diet and health.