Calls for major supermarkets to make a major layout change in UK stores has been backed by Iceland, following new research.

Customers make healthier food purchases if sweets and snacks are removed from checkouts and the ends of aisles, according to a new study.

The UK’s ‘big six’ supermarkets Asda, Tesco, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Lidl and Aldi could be affected if the new finding are acted upon.

Scientists from the University of Southampton teamed up with Iceland supermarkets to trial new layouts including placing fruit and vegetables near store entrances.

The results of the research, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, showed confectionery sales decreased while the sales of fruit and vegetables went up.

Dr Christina Vogel, principal research fellow in public health nutrition, said: “Altering the layouts of supermarkets could help people make healthier food choices and shift population diet towards the Government’s dietary recommendations.

“The findings of our study suggest that a healthier store layout could lead to nearly 10,000 extra portions of fruit and vegetables and approximately 1,500 fewer portions of confectionery being sold on a weekly basis in each store.”

Government intervention could help UK’s diet choices

The new study aimed to reduce the exposure of customers to high-calorie products by placing non-food items at checkouts and at nearby ends of aisles to measure effects on store sales, customer loyalty card purchasing patterns and the diets of more than one household member.

Janis Baird, professor of public health and epidemiology at the university’s MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Centre, said: “These results provide novel evidence to suggest that the intended UK Government ban on prominent placement of unhealthy foods across retail outlets could be beneficial for population diet, and that effects may be further enhanced if requirements for a produce section near supermarket entrances were incorporated into the regulation.”

Iceland pledge to tackle childhood obesity issue

Matt Downes, head of format development at Iceland, said: “We have been pleased to support this long-term study and the evaluation of how product placement in supermarkets can affect the diets of our customers.”

He called on the retail industry to help tackle the issue of childhood obesity following the trial.

He added: “We know that childhood obesity is a growing issue and the retail industry has its part to play in tackling this.

“We hope that the outcomes of the study provide insights for the wider retail industry and policymakers about the impact of store merchandising on purchasing decisions.”