The Controversial Candy Decision This City Just Made

Sugary snacks and drinks have been put on notice in the California city of Berkeley. Beginning March 1, 2021, candy and soda will be banished from checkout lines at all groceries which are larger than 2,500 square feet through a city ordinance that will also cover all independent and chain stores (via SFGate). The ban was spelled out in a city ordinance passed unanimously by the city council. "The healthy checkout ordinance is essential for community health, especially in the time of COVID-19," city Berkeley City Council member Kate Harrison said. "What is good for Berkeley customers is also good for our businesses." 

The ordinance does allow for food items with five grams of added sugar or 250 mg of sodium per serving or less to stay, but The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says the Berkeley ordinance indicates that beverages displayed near the checkout cannot have added sugars or artificial sweeteners. 

CSPI says the ban was imposed after a successful grassroots campaign that began back in 2017 with a sugary drink tax advisory commission, and it's calling the ordinance a massive win for consumers. "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," CSPI's senior policy associate Ashley Hickson says. "Berkeley's historic action will build momentum for future efforts to improve the food retail environment at the state and local level."

Social media isn't sure of what to make of the ban

Berkeley has a history of working aggressively to deal with public health and obesity. In 2016, it passed a soda tax, which resulted in a 21 percent drop in sugary drink consumption, while reporting a 63 percent increase in bottled or tap water consumption (via Berkeleyside). 

Predictably perhaps, the new measure, which was also reported on social media, had its share of critics. One user said: "THIS AINT IT!! Let us have our damn sugar we can't even smile at people." Another pointed out the very reason why the ban was needed in the first place, saying: "can't impulse buy the cookie butter chocolate bar at TJs anymore" (along with a sad face).

A third Twitter user was aggrieved that the city council chose to focus on this instead of other matters which they considered to be more pressing. "Sure, let's be healthy and all, but don't we have bigger problems to solve??? Infrastructure, housing crisis, homelessness, and yet another shooting in WB??? But I'm sure micromanaging people's snacks is super important," she tweeted.

Candies and soda have been banned from checkout lanes before

Berkeley's decision to pull candy and soda from the checkout lane is hardly groundbreaking. In 2016, Aldi introduced healthier checkouts with nuts, trail mixes, dried fruits, and granola bars, even though candy and soda can still be found in other parts of the store (via Chicago Tribune). That decision was controversial too, because as Candy Industry writer Crystal Lindell pointed out at the time, "I think there is a middle ground here though. I think you can have trail mix, and Hershey's bars and batteries all happily co-existing at the checkout. You can give people more options without taking the original choices away," she wrote. "We have to remember that candy is actually completely fine in moderation. And giving people the option to treat themselves after doing a week's worth of grocery shopping isn't a bad thing in and of itself."

But even if candy industry executives aren't happy, past studies have shown that consumers actually want a healthy checkout policy of the kind embraced both by the city of Berkeley and by Aldi. Grocery Dive also says building a healthier checkout doesn't have to be an "all-or-nothing proposition" since candy and healthy snacks can sit next to each other at checkout lanes. It also suggests that retailers can also consider creating candy-free lanes that will accommodate the needs of families with children, and those who need to give sweet treats a hard pass.