Supermarkets take comfort from 'treats' boom in recession

THE amount of snacks, cakes and sweets stocked by Britain's major supermarkets has grown by a third since 2008, according to new research.

Indulgent Britons have been vacuuming up the extra luxuries on offer in supermarket aisles, by increasing their consumption of so-called comfort foods by 15 per cent. But while the amount of unhealthy snacks available has risen, healthy food ranges have remained stagnant.

The figures, released yesterday, are part of research carried out by comparison website, which shows that when it comes to food, Britons are happy to indulge themselves.

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The number of boxed chocolates on sale in supermarkets has nearly doubled since 2008, while patisserie products are up 40 per cent since the UK went into recession two years ago.

The study found that supermarkets have increased their "naughty" food lines more than any other category in the past couple of years.

Supermarkets now sell an average of 186 boxed chocolate products, compared with 99 in 2008, an increase of 86 per cent.

But while indulgent treats are on the increase, healthier foods are in decline. The fresh and prepared fish category has seen an average decrease of ten products since 2008, and there are 8 per cent less fresh herbs on sale. The number of fresh fruit and vegetable choices remains unchanged over the past 24 months, while tinned fruit and vegetables have grown marginally.

Jonny Steel, of, said that the change had been driven by recessionary demands for comfort foods.

"When times are hard, it's natural for consumers to turn to treats such as crisps, chocolates and cake," he said. "The result is that there are many more tempting treats for shoppers to choose from, whilst the number of healthier options appear to have remained unchanged."

Ronan Hegarty, news editor of trade magazine the Grocer, said supermarkets were capable of reacting to shifts in public demand with speed. He said: "They may seem like great lumbering businesses but they can act extremely quickly, changing aisles and layouts so they can offer exactly what the information they're getting through the tills is telling them and hitting those trends."

But Georgina Cairns, a research fellow with the Institute of Social Marketing at Stirling University, said supermarkets artificially amplified public demand for unhealthy snacks to their own ends.

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"You get a little consumer demand showing up on the tills, then you get a response from the retailer and food manufacturers, which amplifies the demand further and what you get is a spiral," she said. "It just encourages the retailers who are just pursuing profit to do more of the same."

Ms Cairns said that supermarkets created 'cues' in shop layout and special offers that militated against healthy eating, encouraging the buying of two-for-one deals and other discounts on profitable sugary and fatty foods.

She added: "That 'responsiveness' people talk about in supermarkets does make the consumer central, but it also creates extreme, obesogenic behaviours that they might not otherwise have."

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