Berkeley to ban sweets, sodas and crisps from checks in grocery stores

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The chocolate bars attract shoppers who visit the Andronico on Solano Avenue. Photo: Eden Teller

Berkeley City Council has passed an ordinance that will remove unhealthy food from the checkout aisles of grocery stores. The ordinance is the first of its kind in the United States, supporters said.

The new policy will require retailers over 2,500 square feet to stock healthy foods on the register and in areas where customers line up, instead of items like crisps, soda and candy. It bans food products containing 5 grams of added sugars and 200 milligrams of sodium, chewing gum and mints with added sugars, and drinks with added sugars or artificial sweeteners. In Berkeley, the policy will affect stores like Safeway, Monterey Market, Whole Foods and Berkeley Bowl.

The ordinance, sponsored by board members Kate Harrison and Sophie Hahn, was passed unanimously at the board meeting on September 22. It will enter into force on March 1, 2021 and its application will begin on January 1, 2022.

The ordinance is “a very good behavioral economy,” Harrison said at the meeting. “It makes better choices easier for consumers but doesn’t limit what they can buy.”

Holly Scheider, a member of the Berkeley Sweetened Beverages Commission, attended the Zoom meeting with a picnic basket to demonstrate that fruits, healthy bars and nuts can repopulate the sugar-laden aisles.

“As a mother of seven, I can certainly speak to the predator marketing that takes place at the checkouts,” said Ayanna Davis, program director at Healthy Black Families, during the public comment period. This marketing often targets communities of color, she said, citing a city fairness report on disproportionately high rates of heart disease and diabetes in Berkeley’s black community.

“This will continue to show that Berkeley is a global leader in healthy lifestyles and predatory business practices in our communities,” added Davis.

The ordinance will make grocery stores a “more neutral and health-friendly space for consumers,” said Ashley Hickson, senior policy associate at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a national consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, DC.

Junk food makers spend a lot to make sure their products are front and center in stores, Hickson said, but some consumers don’t like the practice. In a CSPI survey, 76% of shoppers who bought unhealthy food or drink at checkout regretted the purchase, she added.

CSPI began working on the ordinance with locals like Scheider in 2017. The group is working on six other similar campaigns across the country, but as the first city in the country to pass a soda tax, Berkeley was already ahead of the game.

“Berkeley has long been a leader in progressive health care policies,” Hickson said.



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