New data shows supermarkets pushing unhealthy foods onto Australians

13 Jun 2024

Supermarkets are using product placement and price promotions to lure Australians into buying more unhealthy foods than they intend to, with shocking new Cancer Council Victoria research showing the marketing tactics are working. 

The 2023 Shape of Australia survey of over 2000 Australian adults aged 18-65 found 4 in 5 (81%) notice unhealthy food and drink promotions when shopping at the supermarket, while 3 in 5 (59%) respondents reported they sometimes, often, or always buy more unhealthy food than intended 

Of those who said they purchased more unhealthy food than planned, 6 in 10 (62%) said low prices was a cause and nearly 4 in 10 (38%) selected multi-buy offers as a reason why. 

With supermarkets under the spotlight due to the recent Senate Select Committee on Supermarket Prices, Food for Health Alliance is calling for the Federal Government to do more to protect people from unhealthy food marketing while grocery shopping.  

"Australians want to eat well and enjoy good health. But this is challenging when supermarkets use price promotions and product placement to entice shoppers to buy more unhealthy food and drinks than they intend to, which is heightened by the current cost-of-living crisis” said Food for Health Alliance Executive Manager, Jane Martin.  

“In fact, research shows about 40% of all products sold in Australian supermarkets are price promoted, but supermarkets more commonly use these to sell unhealthy foods, which also tend to have larger discounts than healthy products.” 

"We urgently need government to hold supermarket giants to account, ensuring that foods are priced and displayed in ways that support Australians to be healthy. This includes promoting the consumption of more fruits and vegetables over highly processed foods high in sugar, salt and saturated fat." 

“If we don’t take action, this will have a significant impact on population diets and health in the long-term, including an increased risk within the community of type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and cancer.” 

The Shape of Australia 2023 survey also found that almost 1 in 2 (48%) Australians adults are in favour of government stopping supermarkets and other shops placing unhealthy food and sugary drinks at prominent locations in-store, including at checkouts and end of aisles. Around two in five (43%) support stopping supermarkets and shops promoting unhealthy food and sugary drinks in-store. 

Ms Martin said the National Preventive Health Strategy and the National Obesity Strategy also recommend restricting temporary price reductions and promotions on unhealthy foods.

“Protecting people from unhealthy food marketing will support people to choose healthier options and help address the startling statistic that more than 9 in 10 Australians do not consume enough vegetables and fruit to maintain good health and nearly two thirds of adults and over a quarter of children are above a healthy weight” 

Food for Health Alliance has provided recommendations to the Australian Government’s feasibility study into options to limit unhealthy food marketing to children, including by supermarkets:  

  • Restricting price promotions designed to encourage purchasing of unhealthy foods, including on temporary price discounts and multibuys (e.g. buy 2 for $5). 

  • Stopping retailers from placing unhealthy food in prominent locations in-store, such as near the point of sale (checkouts) and at the ends of aisles, or online, such as such as at the top of search results. 

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