Berkeley Reduces Impulse Buying with Healthy Checkout Ordinance

by Marissa Sheldon, MPH
Healthy Checkout

Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy name: Healthy Checkout Ordinance

Overview: Berkeley, California, stores will be banned from selling items in checkout aisles that contain more than five grams of added sugars or 200 milligrams of sodium per serving.

Location: Berkeley, CA

Population: 122,667

Food policy category: Diet and nutrition, preventative health care

Program goals: To reduce sugar and sodium consumption, and to reduce the risks of Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. 

How it works: Retail stores in Berkeley will have to replace junk foods, candy, and soda in checkout aisles with healthier items containing less added sugar and sodium. Checkout areas are defined as those accessible to customers within three feet of a cash register.

Allowed beverages will include bottled water, carbonated water with no added sugar, unsweetened coffee or tea, 100 percent fruit or vegetable juices, and milk without added sugar. 

Food items must not contain more than five grams of added sugar per serving or more than 200 milligrams of sodium per serving. Foods that will be allowed so long as they meet this nutritional criteria, include fresh, canned, or dried fruit; nuts, seeds, or snack mixes with nuts or seeds listed as the first two ingredients; bars with fruit, nuts, or seeds listed as the first two ingredients; whole grain crackers; popcorn; yogurt; cheese; and sugar-free gum.  

Less healthy items can still be sold in the stores, but not in the checkout areas. 

The ordinance applies to stores larger than 2,500 square feet, which amounts to approximately 25 stores in Berkeley including Safeway, Whole Foods, CVS, and Walgreens. 

Progress to date: The city ordinance passed unanimously on September 22, 2020, and will go into effect in March 2021, with enforcement beginning in January 2022.  

Why it is important: Impulse purchases, such as those made while waiting in checkout lines, can add up to $5,400 in spending per person per year, with 70 percent of that money used for food items. To increase profits, retailers purposefully encourage consumers to buy products in checkout areas, which are also prime locations for targeting young children who are waiting impatiently with their parents. Salty and sugary snacks and beverages often dominate the items sold in checkout aisles. The children see these items at their eye level, whine at their parents to buy them, and the parents give in so as not to cause a scene with their child. 

Shoppers who are intending to only buy healthy food items – or no food items at all – often have their plans thwarted when they approach the checkout counter and are tempted by unhealthy snacks. The consumption of sugar and sodium is associated with many health risks, including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. Removing the temptation at checkout counters may reduce consumer purchasing of these items and thereby reduce their sugar and sodium consumption. 

Program/Policy initiated: The policy will go into effect on March 1, 2021. 

Point of contact: 
Kate Harrison
Phone: (510) 981-7140

Similar practices: Berkeley is the first city in the United States to implement a healthy checkout policy, though many groceries in the UK have voluntarily enacted similar policies. A grocery chain in Utah, Associated Food Stores, also created a LiVeWell Lane  checkout aisle where only healthy items are sold, while other checkout aisles are still stocked with the less healthy items.  

Evaluation: Evaluation has not yet been conducted, as the policy has not yet gone into effect.

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