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Kids can't resist candy? Stores try junk food-free 'healthy checkout lanes'

Stores are adding "healthy" or "family friendly" checkout lanes that display more nutritious fare rather than the usual candy and chips.
/ Source: TODAY

No matter how many sugary treats you dodge at the grocery store, there’s always one last place where you must face the candy: the checkout lane.

Take a child along and it can become a battle ground. If adults have problems resisting all the easy-to-reach junk food, kids find it unbearably tempting.

Many parents are all too familiar with arguments over treats in the supermarket checkout lane.Shutterstock / SpeedKingz

Now, some stores are experimenting with “healthy” or “family friendly” checkout lanes that display more nutritious fare rather than the usual chocolate bars, snack cakes and chips.

“I would really love a ‘family friendly’ supermarket line. That candy is so distracting,” Lyla Gleason, who lives in New York and writes the Globetrotting Mommy blog, told TODAY Parents.

When her 6-year-old daughter asks for treats near the register, Gleason sometimes tries to divert her attention to something else. If they’re visiting a big supermarket, she usually ends up getting her M&Ms from a life-size display right in front of the checkout lines.

That’s a dilemma “healthy” checkout lanes want to end. Target began trying out the concept in October at 30 stores, placing nutrition bars near registers and moving junk food elsewhere, Fortune reported.

Read more: 9 things this family learned by giving up junk food

Raley’s, a supermarket chain with 114 locations in California and Nevada, now has one family friendly checkout lane in each of its stores. The project began in 2010 to help parents avoid “mini-meltdowns” with kids.

Raley's Family Friendly checkout.Christina Roome / Courtesy Raley's

“We’re learning quickly that our customers want more of this,” said company spokeswoman Chelsea Minor. “(We recognize) the challenges for moms and dads who are going through those check stands and their children are quickly distracted by treats.”

Signs help customers spot the family friendly lanes, which are free of candy, soda and chips. Items like Odwalla bars, trail mixes, dried fruit are displayed instead. It’s not as lucrative as selling chocolate and cookies, but Raley’s believes it’s the right thing to do, Minor said.

There have been similar efforts at various grocery stores and supermarkets in Utah, West Virginia, Texas and the Midwest.

Still, change is slow to come.

About 90 percent of food at the checkout is unhealthy, the Center for Science in the Public Interest found in a 2014 report. It’s unacceptable for companies to push extra calories on customers this way, the group said.

Read more: Reusable bags prompt some shoppers to buy more junk food

But the strategy clearly works: Stores have placed treats near registers for decades and people expect them to be there, said Madelyn Fernstrom, TODAY health and nutrition editor.

Not only is it an impulse buy, but many shoppers come to think of the treats as a “reward,” she added, calling it a very big issue from a calorie control and nutrition standpoint. Better fare in that spot could help change eating behavior.

“It's an easy and effective way to limit junk food for the whole family,” Fernstrom noted.

“Studies show that what you see is what you eat, so healthier choices on the shelf could make a difference.”

About 90 percent of food at the checkout is unhealthy, one study found.Getty Images

Those choices could include small packs of nuts, dried fruits and fiber rich whole grain crackers, Fernstrom said. The key is small portions because big bags of healthy foods are still calorie overloads for kids and adults. Instead of soda or juice, the refrigerated cooler could contain flavored seltzers and single serving packs of sliced apples or grapes.

Read more: 7 Ways to Save When Shopping Organic

Not surprisingly, parents are some of the biggest fans of the concept. When Harmons, a chain of grocery stores in Utah, announced it was adding healthy checkout lanes at its markets a couple of years ago, many moms cheered.

“Why can't all checkouts be like this so I don't have to say ‘no’ to my kids when they ask for the crap usually positioned at the checkout?? I'll say ‘yes’ when we're in the healthy lane,” one woman wrote on the company’s Facebook page.

“Love this. Makes checking out with kiddos much more enjoyable,” added another.

There is no down side to stores trying out the concept, Fernstrom said. She hopes the next step is seeing the “healthy” lines jammed and companies having to adjust to customer demand.

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