Checkout Lines Are Getting Healthier—but Are People Buying?

Photo: CVS
If you find yourself waiting in line at CVS, you may impulse-buy a little snack—but chances are, the candy bars that were once ubiquitous at checkout are now going to be out of reach.

It's no secret that the sugar-loaded treats at the register yield big sales: For the average person, one out of every 10 trips involves an unplanned candy purchase. But as more people have educated themselves on just exactly how bad sugar is for you, there's been a cultural shift toward making healthier choices. Several retailers have responded to that, stocking their checkout aisles with Kind bars, unsalted trail mix blends, and veggie chips.

So, are people picking up what the stores are putting out? Is the shift from candy to healthy treats happening as much as wellness-loving insiders like to think? Here, several brands share insider secrets—AKA whether they're making money or losing it—and how the checkout lines will continue to evolve.

Keep reading for a behind-the-scenes look at how snacks in the checkout line are changing.

healthier checkout
Photo: CVS

Taking a risk in the name of wellness

It's a huge risk for businesses to rewrite the formula for such a major revenue driver, but it was one the supermarket chain Aldi took in stride last year. "We replaced the usual impulse treats like candy and chocolate with single serve nuts, trail mixes, dried fruit, and granola bars," a spokesperson says. The source says the move played into the brand's overall mission: "Aldi is a leader in providing better-for-you choices. Customers want quality, on-trend products at the very lowest price, and that’s exactly what we offer. We were the first grocery store to offer all of our Aldi exclusive products free of certified synthetic colors, partially hydrogenated oils, and added MSG."

"Adding healthier options [at checkout] was an easy decision because it was what customers were asking for and what made sense for our mission." —Michael McEnany, CVS

CVS recently underwent their own checkout line makeover, replacing 25 percent of the space with healthier options. The drugstore is no stranger to bold moves: In 2014, it made headlines by discontinuing the sales of tobacco products—despite cigarettes being a major moneymaker for them. "Immediately after the tobacco decision, we got a tremendous amount of positive feedback from customers," says Michael McEnany, vice president of consumables and general merchandise at CVS. "They wanted to know what was next. Adding healthier options [at checkout] was an easy decision because it was what customers were asking for and what made sense for our mission."

They certainly aren't the only retailers making this move. This year, Target slowly started healthifying its checkout lines, starting with just 30 locations but then expanding to more than 300. Lowe's Market is taking slow-but-steady steps, too, recently adding fruits and veggies at checkout in 150 of its locations.

healthier checkout
Photo: Stocksy/Sean Locke

How it's affecting sales

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, 79 percent of adults say supermarkets should make it easier for them to stay healthy; one way to do so would be making options at checkout more nutritious. The same survey found that over half of respondents bought candy or soda at checkout recently—a purchase 75 percent ended up regretting. But what you say in a survey is one thing. What you actually do is another.

So, how is the shift toward healthier options playing out? Pretty fantastic. According to Aldi, the supermarket is seeing sales growth not just at checkout but also within its in-house product lines NeverAny! (antibiotic- and hormone-free meat), Elevation (healthy bars and protein powders), and liveGfree (their gluten-free line).

CVS is also gaining momentum in this sphere: "Our results are strong and we see growth in the number of our customers buying healthier food products," McEnany says. Often, he says, customers are reaching for products from CVS's healthy in-house line, Gold Emblem; he names its unsalted pistachio and almond blend as a best-seller as well as Krave Jerky, Think Thin bars, Kind bars, and Biena chickpeas. Similarly, Target's healthier checkout pilot program has been successful as well—that's why the retailer keeps expanding it!

Overall, this change is a huge win for everyone involved and shows exactly what happens when you vote with your dollar—brands listen and keep feeding you more of what you want. What's next, a healthy fast food revolution? (Oh wait...)

McDonald's is making a big move toward wellness, too. And matcha is becoming almost as easy to find on-the-go as coffee.

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