The Growth in Healthy Checkout Aisles

  • You’re standing in line to check out at the grocery store. Time slows as people place their items on the conveyor belt one at a time. You feel like you’ve already spent way too long in this store and staring at all the food is making you hungry. That’s when you spot your favorite candy bar.


    What’s the harm in a little snack while you wait?


    For long as most of us can remember, checkout aisles have always been this way, loaded with candy and gum and anything else that plays on our impulses.  That, however, is starting to change. Over the past few years, healthy checkout aisles are springing up across the country as grocery stores get into the wellness game.

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    Candy-free aisles are now an option at some stores, offering everyday items such as batteries, pens and notepads in place of gum, candy and chocolate. Other stores are taking it a step further by joining local programs that promote healthy food options and education.


    Healthy Corner Stores Network works with 600 members across North America to offer neglected communities better food accessibility and healthy options in small stores. In West Virginia, local grocery stores are providing aisles with fresh fruits and vegetables and toys that promote physical activity. The program, headed by Change the Future WV, has received great response from customers, particularly mothers with young children.


    “If I was with my kids, I would definitely go down that aisle,” says Carmen Roberts, a registered dietician. Roberts says it conveys a healthy message to children and also removes guilt when a mother hands her child a banana instead of M&Ms.


    To help pay for these healthy upgrades, some areas seek financial assistance through state and federal grants. Cowlitz County in Washington State launched its Healthy Neighborhood Store Program via grants. The program aims at increasing healthy food options across small neighborhood stores in communities with high rates of health problems or limited access to fresh produce—commonly referred to as “food deserts.” The grants help pay for improved store displays and renovations, not the food itself. The Daily News Online reports some of the stores included in the program have seen an increase in fresh produce sales.


    A five-year grant from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) went to areas in Douglas County, Nebraska, that are categorized as “nutritionally fragile.” This means access to healthy fresh food is more than a mile away from most homes. Phil’s Foodway was one store selected to receive funds from the CDC grant. Phil’s now offers signs directing shoppers to healthy food choices. The store’s office manager told the Omaha World-Herald that low-fat milk and whole-grain bread sales have increased as a result.


    A citywide beverage campaign by the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) encourages customers to swap sugary drinks and sodas for water or milk. BPHC has partnered with major grocery stores, such as Tropical Foods, that have committed to posting the “ReThink Your Drink” posters at the point-of-purchase, according to BPHC employee Maura Ackerman.


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    If there’s not a healthy checkout aisle available in your local store, there are preventative measures you can take. First, don’t go grocery shopping on an empty stomach. “When you are hungry, you really want those high-fat and high-sugar snacks because that’s going to fill you up quickly or satisfy your hunger more quickly,” explains Roberts. This can lead to purchasing junk food and grabbing sweets in the checkout lanes.


    Be prepared if hunger pangs strike you or your children. Roberts recommends packing some healthy snack choices in a bag to bring to the store. You can also take a lead in your community by contacting your local or county officials about joining a healthy neighborhood store program.

Published On: April 10, 2014