New Checkout Ordinances and Retail Restrictions Promote Healthier Shopping

A man putting items from his grocery cart onto a checkout conveyor belt.

Learn how advancing steps in Californian retail policy can improve local health outcomes by creating more sodium-conscious checkouts.

Key takeaways:

  • Checkout aisles have traditionally been hotspots for high sodium, sugar-heavy foods.
  • Two cities in California recently enacted ordinances regulating junk food at checkout aimed at improving consumer health.
  • Retail restrictions include limitations on sodium content, sugar levels, and which types of foods and beverages checkouts can feature.

Have you ever tried avoiding junky, high-sodium foods at the grocery store? It’s quite a challenge! From cereals and sandwiches to cured meats and condiments, most of our average daily sodium intake comes from the processed and pre-packaged foods that surround us when we shop.

Careful consumers can avoid the biggest high sodium culprits in the aisles and make it all the way to the checkout with a healthier haul. Even then, it’s all too easy to add a small impulse buy on the way out, making it harder to follow a low-sodium diet – especially when the checkout stand is packed with appealing but less-than-healthy options.

New checkout ordinances and retail restrictions enacted in two California cities aim to tackle these last-minute temptations. The plan is simple: move junk foods and beverages further away from payment points unless they meet specified ingredient limits. Here’s how these new laws work and some of the benefits they can create.

Berkely and Perris lead the way

Checkouts are the most hotly contested areas in a store among food manufacturers, who know that every shopper must spend time there regardless of what they came to buy. Grab a place at checkout and you’ve got a guaranteed audience for your product. And many of the unhealthiest products in the store have managed to win prominent placement in these prime spots.

However, health-conscious consumers and wider regulatory measures are calling for less sodium in grocery choices, and checkouts have become a promising target for change. The City Councils of Perris and Berkely were happy to oblige, with Berkely having done so in 2020 inspired by research from the University of Cambridge in the UK.

Starting January 1, 2024, here’s how the city of Perris will follow in Berkely’s footsteps:

  • No more sodas and candies will be displayed at local checkout stands
  • Fruits, dairy, vegetables, nuts, and seeds will instead be promoted
  • Foods displayed at checkouts must contain ingredients not exceeding 200 milligrams of sodium and 5 grams of added sugar
  • Beverages must contain no more than 40 calories, no more than 200 milligrams of sodium, and contain no artificial sweeteners or added sugars.

These checkout ordinances only apply to stores larger than 2,500 square feet and won’t stop stores from stocking high-sodium foods in other aisles, but at least these unhealthy options will now be kept at least six feet away from the checkouts themselves.

This isn’t the first time American food stores (or California) have tried this approach, with one chain – Raley’s – having begun in 2010. Texas, Utah, and West Virginia, among others, also made headlines in 2015 for trying to create healthier checkout lanes.

There’s still a long way to go to make shopping a healthier experience, but initiatives like these represent a strong start that will positively impact their communities, particularly the health habits of their most vulnerable members.

The racial factor

Too much sodium is bad for anyone, but some groups are disproportionately affected by its adverse effects. The National Institute of Health (NIH) has highlighted how Asian and non-Hispanic Black populations suffer from higher degrees of sodium sensitivity. This racially important aspect of sodium consumption becomes even more crucial when we consider data from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) revealing that people of color are 72% more likely to make a checkout purchase, compared to 48% in other groups. 

Hopefully, new junk food ordinances will play at least a small role in reducing sodium intake for these higher-risk demographics. It’s a sentiment echoed by Berkely health advocates, where African American residents are four times as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes; a condition that can be dangerously aggravated by too much sodium.

The effect of checkouts on children

Children are another group particularly vulnerable to excess sodium exposure. For reasons that may seem obvious, they also tend to be the perfect height to be eye-level with candies and sodas in checkout lines! This often leads to adults picking up an impulse junk food item just to keep the little ones happy and quiet.

Unfortunately, those extra purchases add up to a large-scale health problem. They also contribute to the fact that almost 90% of American kids exceed the recommended daily sodium limits; a grim statistic that proponents of healthier checkout lanes hope to change. In the meantime, here are 7 other ways to reduce childhood sodium while parents and guardians wait for checkout aisles to improve.

Today’s ingredient for tomorrow’s checkouts

The CSPI has published the roadmap for their healthy checkout initiative which is a valuable resource for future-facing food outlets and health advocates everywhere. And as the idea of healthier checkouts continues to gain momentum, food manufacturers will be searching for ways to produce compliant products that can still be featured beside the register.

This is where MicroSalt® comes in. Our patented, award-winning technology makes it easy for manufacturers to replace standard salt in their production process, cut the amount of sodium in their products by half, and still provide that delicious salty flavor that consumers love. Don’t think that’s possible? Tasting is believing! 

Retailers can lead the way by adding our SaltMe®! potato chips to their checkout aisles right now. Our four popular flavors are already helping consumers combine mouthwatering taste and better health.

MicroSalt® is the simplest, most economical way for food manufacturers to produce low-sodium, full-flavor products that still have a chance to be featured at checkout as these changes start to roll out. Connect with us on our message page or call 1-877-825-0655 to learn more!

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