Why supermarkets should remove confectionery from their checkouts

My friend was recently banned from her local supermarket. She's an upstanding member of her local community, a good Christian, regularly helping out others and putting on events, as well as fostering a young lad in addition to looking after her three young daughters.

So what did she do that was so terrible that she can never darken their doors again?

Well, while she was busy unloading the £150 worth of shopping she was intending to buy onto the checkout conveyor, her rather mischievous three year old helped herself to a packet of Tic Tacs from the sweet display right next to the checkout. Without my friend noticing, she opened it up and began enjoying the minty treats.

When she discovered what her daughter had done, my friend was quite rightly horrified. However, this soon turned to anger when the shop insisted that she pay 40p for the packet of sweets that she didn't want and would never have given to her child had she not been distracted by dealing with the sales assistant.

Instead of paying the 40p, she decided on principle that she wasn't going to pay for the whole of the shop, so for the sake of a few pennies, the supermarket lost £150 - and a loyal, regular customer.

As parents, we're all subjected to pester power at one point or another and shops rely on this to sell us things we don't want or need. However, as parents, we've also all been through that frazzled feeling where the eyes in the back of our head were temporarily closed and we missed our child doing something they shouldn't have. Good customer service would have recognised this as a genuine mistake (after all, a three year old cannot be charged with shoplifting) and waived the price of the sweets, or even - dare I say it? - consider removing sweets from the checkouts all together.

Different supermarket chains have different policies when it comes to the products they display by their checkouts. Sainsbury's don't allow sweets or chocolate next to its checkouts except in its smaller shops. Similarly, Tesco only have confectionery on display by the tills in Tesco Express branches. Iceland has sweets at one checkout per store while Asda apparently only has sweet displays at a third of its tills (although this isn't much help if those are the only tills open or the ones with the shortest queues).

In comparison, Lidl has been trialling a 'healthy till' practice. These checkouts have fruit snack packs and juice instead of fizzy drinks and confectionery and on the back of their success, Lidl are promising to increase the number of healthy checkouts in their stores.

Public health minister Anna Soubry is drawing up plans that would request supermarkets to remove the so-called 'guilt lanes' that make it so easy for people to give into temptation and impulse buy at the last minute. Although I'm firmly in favour of people being able to make up their own minds of what they do or don't buy, surely a whole aisle devoted to confectionery is enough for any shop? Nobody really needs to be bombarded with sweets targeted at children and kept within easy reach of them when they've finished their shopping and just want to be done. As long as sweets are by the tills, there are going to be incidents like the one involving my friend - only most people are too tired or embarrassed to make a stand and simply pay up so they can get out of the shop.

Lidl's experiment has shown that healthy goods are just as likely to sell as junk food if it's stocked at the checkout, so if supermarkets really must keep something there, why not follow Lidl's lead? I know which one I'd rather my children were tempted by.