Supermarkets rapped over unhealthy food

LONDON (Reuters) - Major supermarkets were criticised by a consumer watchdog on Monday for nearly doubling the number of in-store promotions for unhealthy foods during the last two years.

A row of shopping trolleys stand outside the Morrisons supermarket in Blackpool, March 10, 2008. REUTERS/Phil Noble

A National Consumer Council report found 54 percent of in-store promotions advertised sugary and fatty foods, while only one in eight of the retailers plugged fruit and vegetables.

“The volume of in-house promotions for fatty and sugary foods the supermarkets are all offering is staggering,” said the report’s author Lucy Yates.

“We expected to see evidence of big improvements since our last investigation, but we’ve been sadly disappointed.”

Overall Britain’s third largest supermarket chain Sainsbury’s came top of the survey for a second time in a row, doing well on customer information and labelling and nutrition, with the Co-operative Group in second place.

Britain’s largest retailer Tesco was in joint fifth place, while Morrisons was bottom for the fourth consecutive time.

Earlier this year Health Secretary Alan Johnson said Britain was in the grip of an obesity crisis and Yates pleaded with the nation’s retailers to do more to promote healthy eating.

“With so many of us buying our food in these supermarkets, their collective behaviour can heavily influence the nation’s eating habits,” she said.

“Despite their claims, the supermarkets all still have a long way to go to help customers choose and enjoy a healthier diet.”

The survey rated supermarkets on the salt content of their own-brand foods, nutrition labelling, price promotions, whether sweets were sold at the checkout, and the information and advice they made available to customers.

Reporting by John Joseph; Editing by Steve Addison