Healthy foods should be better promoted, the NCC says
Supermarkets are offering too many promotions for fatty or sugary foods, campaigners say.
The National Consumer Council went into all eight major chains and found over half of promotions were for unhealthy foods - double the level seen in 2006.
It said the increase showed how far supermarkets would go to attract customers during the credit crunch.
But the British Retail Consortium said the snapshot survey carried out in March was unrepresentative.
The NCC went into Asda, Co-op, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury's, Somerfield, Tesco and Waitrose stores in Sheffield and assessed how much they were doing to help their customers eat healthily.
It's six months out of date, contains a number of inaccuracies and is a largely subjective assessment
It rated each on promotions, the salt content of own-brand foods, nutrition labelling, the prevalence of sweets at check-outs and the healthy eating information and advice available.
The number of promotions, such as two-for-one deals, had risen to 4,300, up 17% since the NCC's 2006 report.
But only 12% for were for fruit and vegetables, far below the 33% the NCC recommends. It also says health advice suggests just 7% of a person's diet should be made up of unhealthy foods, compared to the 54% found.
Morrisons were deemed the worst offenders, with 63% of their promotions featuring sugary and fatty foods, up from 39% from 2006.
Sainsbury's came top overall for the second time in a row, gaining praise for its progress on labelling and nutrition, and scoring highly on customer information.
The supermarkets all still have a long way to go to help customers choose and enjoy a healthier diet
Lucy Yates, NCC
Tesco, despite having the biggest share of the market, was ranked joint fifth place, while Morrisons comes last for the fourth time in a row.
Lucy Yates, who compiled the NCC report, said: "The volume of in-house promotions for fatty and sugary foods the supermarkets are all offering is staggering.
"We expected to see evidence of big improvements since our last investigation, but we've been sadly disappointed.
"With so many of us buying our food in these supermarkets, their collective behaviour can heavily influence the nation's eating habits.
"Despite their claims, the supermarkets all still have a long way to go to help customers choose and enjoy a healthier diet."
All supermarkets had made good progress on reducing the salt content of their own foods.
The Co-op, Tesco and Waitrose were praised for not having sweets at the check-out - but M&S scored zero for displaying a wide range of sweets and snacks at checkouts, although it says it intends to remove confectionery by January next year.
But Andrew Opie, food director of the British Retail Consortium, said: "The NCC's one-off March snapshot is misleading. Customers will have seen for themselves the current high-profile supermarket price war centred on fruit and vegetables.
"Of course 'treat' foods are on offer at Easter. What matters is the balance of promotions across the year. The NCC would find a different picture in summer."
However, the NCC said it had excluded Easter promotions from its study.
He added: "This ill-informed report will not distract us from our work with the Food Standards Agency and Department of Health on tackling obesity, work for which UK retailers are recognised as European leaders."
A spokesman for Morrisons said: "We reject the findings of this report. It's six months out of date, contains a number of inaccuracies and is a largely subjective assessment which ignores the obvious focus we place on fresh food in all our stores.
"It's limited to one moment in time and is not an accurate or useful guide for customers."
Saranjit Sihota, of the charity Diabetes UK, said: "Increasing the promotion of unhealthy foods in supermarkets clearly fuels the ticking time-bomb of obesity in this country."
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