Advocates in Grand Rapids and Lansing launch grassroots campaign targeting the Michigan-based retailer

WASHINGTON—Grassroots advocates in Grand Rapids and Lansing, MI, are launching a campaign today urging Meijer to adopt healthy checkout aisles instead of pushing candy, chips, soda, and other junk foods on its customers and their children. Only 3 percent of the food and drink items offered at checkout by the Grand Rapids-based retailer are healthy, according to a new assessment from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The nonprofit food watchdog group is providing support for the campaign by sponsoring billboards urging shoppers to “Ask Meijer for #HealthyCheckout.”

On the ground, the campaign is led by the NorthWest Initiative, a nonprofit organization working to strengthen and sustain healthy communities in the Lansing area, and by Jane Kramer, a mom from Bath Township, MI, who has been urging Meijer to improve its checkout aisles. The Ingham County Health Department, Capital Area Health Alliance, Capital Area Food Council, and the local medical practice Reality Meets Science are all members of the task force launching the campaign today.

Meijer, the nation’s seventh largest grocer, lists safety and health among its core values.  “We create a safe shopping experience for our customers and offer products and services to help our customers lead healthier lives,” the company states on its website. Yet CSPI only found a smattering of healthy items, such as bottled water and Cheerios cereal cups, at Meijer checkouts. Unlike most other supermarkets, Meijer promotes 32-ounce plastic cups in its checkout aisles—to fill with Coca-Cola products at soda fountains adjacent to the registers.

“It’s good that Meijer says it wants to help its customers lead healthier lives, but that core value is undermined by what it sells in checkout aisles.”

“It’s good that Meijer says it wants to help its customers lead healthier lives, but that core value is undermined by what it sells in checkout aisles,” said Peggy Vaughn-Payne, executive director of the NorthWest Initiative. “Parents and families have a hard enough time in the supermarket without the promotion of junk food at checkout.”

CSPI purchased two billboards on Interstate 96, one at exit 8 at Walker Avenue and one at exit 31 at U.S. Route 131, both major thoroughfares leading to Meijer headquarters. A third billboard will be on E. Grand River Road where it meets Park Lake Road in East Lansing. All billboards will be up on July 20. The group is also asking its members to sign a petition to Meijer president Rick Keyes and to Tweet at the company, urging it to adopt healthy checkout. Organizers are also planning a Walk for Healthy Checkouts on July 21 at 10:00 a.m. at the Okemos Meijer (or August 25 in case of rain).

Food and non-food retailers across the country are increasingly shifting the mix of checkout options in a healthier direction, according to CSPI. Aldi announced a plan in 2016 to have healthy checkout aisles at its 1,500 stores; CVS also announced that it would reduce shelf space for soda and junk food to make more room for healthier foods and non-food items. CSPI maintains a Pinterest board of images of healthy checkout and resources for retailers considering checkout changes, and the group has produced a short film highlighting successful healthier checkout initiatives by independent supermarkets in Los Angeles and Utah.

“Customers can choose to avoid the candy and soda aisles, but they cannot avoid checkout. We’re asking Meijer to replace unhealthy food and beverages at checkout with options that support, not undermine, customers’ health,” said Julia McCarthy, CSPI senior policy associate.

“Healthy checkouts would provide a more supportive and convenient family shopping experience,” Kramer said. “Instead of having to navigate countless checkout aisles filled with junk food, we’re asking Meijer to create lanes with healthier options that provide parents with more opportunities to, every once in a while, say ‘yes’ to snacks we can feel good about.”