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Berkeley Is First in the U.S. to Ban Candy, Chips, and Soda From Grocery Store Checkout Lanes

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Forget that gum impulse buy if you’re shopping in Berkeley

Shoppers at Berkeley grocery stores will have to walk a little farther for their salty and sugary snacks.
Photo credit should read SERGEI GAPON/AFP via Getty Images

Snack seekers shopping in Berkeley stores will have to travel a little further if they want chips, candy, soda, or other treats deemed unhealthy, after its city council unanimously approved a ban on checkout-stand displays of so-called “junk food.”

According to Berkeleyside, the ban is the first in the nation and applies to all retail establishments that are 2,500 square feet or larger — so your corner store will still have Ruffles or Snickers by the register, but places like Safeway, Walgreens, Whole Foods, and Berkeley Bowl may only display healthy snacks in those final, coveted spots.

The SF Chronicle reports that Berkeley council members Kate Harrison and Sophie Hahn were behind the ordinance, which will take effect on March 1, 2021, and will be actively enforced by health inspectors as of January 1, 2022. “The healthy checkout ordinance is essential for community health, especially in the time of COVID-19,” Harrison said via a statement. “What is good for Berkeley customers is also good for our businesses.”

Here’s how it works: Any food items that contain 5 or more grams of added sugars and/or 200 milligrams of sodium can’t be displayed within two feet of the register, nor can gums or mints with added sugar, or soda and other drinks with either artificial sweetener or added sugar. Instead, shops are encouraged to stock juice, water, nuts, and fruits in those spots.

The goal is to improve public health by encouraging healthier choices, Harrison says, especially for more vulnerable communities. “We know that people that eat a lot of high-sugar and salty products have worse health outcomes, and this particularly besets low income communities and people of color,” Harrison tells ABC 7. According to the Daily Californian, the ban has widespread support in Berkeley, with 95 percent of respondents to a recent poll stating their approval of the measure.

And this certainly isn’t the first time Berkeley has made a landmark law around public health: In 2014, the city was the first to pass a tax on soda and other drinks with added sugar. Since then, cities including Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and Boulder (among many others) have followed suit. According to a 2019 study, three years after passing the tax, consumption of added sugar drinks dropped by 52 percent.

All in all, this new snack placement ban applies to about 25 stores across Berkeley, including locations of Trader Joe’s, CVS drugstores, and markets like Mi Tierra, the manager of which tells KPIX that after seeing that “people tend to purchase that which is accessible to them at the last minute or they’re about to pay, out of impulse or just out of visually attracted to the product or being hungry,” the store proactively limited the sugary and salty offerings at checkout.

“We do have a variety of candies that we sell and sweets,” manager Rafael Del Rio says, and ”everything is still accessible in the store,” just not at the impulse-driven point point of purchase. Harrison also emphasizes that the ban on snacks isn’t store-wide, saying “You can buy anything you want, just not within two feet of the register, so, it’s right behind you. If you really want that thing, go ahead!”