New report provides snapshot of unhealthy promotions in Scotland's shops

20 May 2024
Promotions in stores and retail outlets influence what goes into our shopping baskets and can often lead us to purchase more than we intended. Our new report presents a snapshot of price and location promotions in a selection of stores in Glasgow to explore the extent and balance of food and drink promotions in retail settings.

The Scottish Government is committed to action to restrict the promotion of HFSS food and drink products. In February 2024, the Scottish Government launched their latest consultation on proposed regulations to restrict price and location promotions of products high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS). The findings of this study offer critical evidence on the proposals in the consultation.

We visited five local supermarkets (A, B, C, D & E) in Glasgow city centre in July 2023. Each supermarket belongs to a different national supermarket chain. Each store was visited twice – once for primary data collection and once for quality control purposes.

Key findings included:

  • There were a total of 5,804 food and drink promotions recorded – 63% (3,642) were price promotions, and 37% (2,161) location promotions (prominent parts of the store).
  • Temporary price reductions (TPRs) and meal deals were the most commonly used types of price promotions, accounting for 86% of all price promotions.
  • Promotional aisles and shelf-edge labels were the two most commonly used types of nonmonetary promotions, accounting for 55% of all non-monetary promotions.
  • 34% of promotions were on discretionary items. A discretionary item is a food or drink product not required in our diet and is usually high in fat, salt and sugar. Examples include sweets, cakes, crisps, and sugary soft drinks. Meal deals and TPRs were most commonly used to promote discretionary items.
  • The most extensively promoted discretionary product categories were: confectionery (28% of all promoted discretionary items), crisps (18%), and soft drinks with added sugar (14%).

The study demonstrates that regulations to restrict promotions of unhealthy products could reduce people's exposure to in-store promotions and negative nudges to purchase. Such policies would also help to create a level playing field for retailers, helping to make sure that those who decide to promote healthier products are not disadvantaged financially, while all are encouraged to adjust to business models that promote essential and nutritious food and drink.

Obesity Action Scotland therefore recommends and calls on the Scottish Government to take bold and urgent policy action by comprehensively regulating all forms of promotions of unhealthy food and drink products. The more comprehensive the curbs on unhealthy promotions, the lower the likelihood that food industry would switch between promotion types, and the greater the potential benefit to the diet of the population.

Read the full report here.