Berkeley City Council Approves Nation’s First Healthy Checkout Policy

Grocery Stores Required to Sell Nutritious Options

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Consumers in Berkeley, California scored a major victory with the passage of the nation’s first healthy checkout policy requiring grocery stores to offer more nutritious food and beverages in the checkout aisle. The historic vote was taken by the Berkeley City Council last night.

The new policy, which applies to retailers with stores greater than 2,500 square feet, will exclude soda and candy from the checkout aisle in favor of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, dairy, whole grains, and chewing gum and mints with no added sugars. Beverages in the checkout aisle must have no added sugars and no artificial sweeteners, and food items are restricted to no more than 5 grams of added sugars and 200 milligrams of sodium per serving.

“The healthy checkout ordinance is essential for community health, especially in the time of COVID-19,” said Berkeley City Council member Kate Harrison, who championed the policy. “What is good for Berkeley customers is also good for our businesses.”

The vote capped a successful grassroots campaign that started in 2017 with the city’s sugary drink tax advisory commission and the Healthy Berkeley community grants program created by the tax initiative. Healthy Berkeley grantee Bay Area Community Resources led a youth advocacy team that mobilized the community through petitions, surveys, and gatherings to champion a city-wide policy. A recent survey conducted by the group found that 69 percent of beverages and 81 percent of foods available at checkout are high in sugar or salt. In addition, half of the community members polled reported feeling stressed about making healthy choices at the checkout aisle.

“Many parents of color in Berkeley are worried because they are seeing a rise in diabetes in the community and they fear for their children’s lives,” said Monique Blodgett, a Berkeley mother and BACR advocate. “I believe healthy checkout lanes would make a huge difference for Berkeley families and help people gain more confidence shopping. It would also demonstrate that their community cares about them and their health.”

The Berkeley campaign was led by youth advocates at BACR, in partnership with CSPI, and Holly Scheider, an activist who chairs the sugary drink tax advisory committee for Berkeley. Food manufacturers spend $50 billion each year on trade promotion to ensure their products occupy highly visible store spaces. Because every shopper must spend time in checkout, it is typically the most expensive real estate in a store, and a major source of stress for consumers who want better options.

“This is a massive win for consumers and public health during the COVID-19 pandemic, when grocery stores are more integral to our well-being than ever before,” said CSPI senior policy associate Ashley Hickson. “By offering healthier options at checkout, stores will contribute to advancing public health and level the playing field for consumers during an already stressful time. Berkeley’s historic action will build momentum for future efforts to improve the food retail environment at the state and local level.”  

In Berkeley, African American residents are 4 times more likely than white residents to be diagnosed with diabetes and 14 times more likely to be hospitalized due to the illness. Nationwide, diabetes is on the rise.

“This policy is especially important now in the time of COVID-19, in which patients with co-existing conditions such as diabetes and obesity appear to have worse outcomes,” said Scheider, long-time Berkeley resident and mother of 3. “It is also a gift to busy parents who can now steer clear of the sugar aisles and know that healthy treats are the only temptations when they wait in line to pay.”

Contact Info: 

Katherine Shek (kshek[at]cspinet.org)