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Check Out at the Fat Camp

They're happy taking our money, but are retailers to blame for making us fatter?

Despite the potential offered via a massive database of behavioural trends, you have to wonder at the use the UK’s top multiples are actually putting it to.

“The retailers have clearly got oodles of information on us. But information doesn’t mean understanding,” says Faraday Packaging Partnership md Dr Walter Lewis. “You’ve got this tremendous power base at the end of the supply chain interfacing with the final customer; one which has got lots of information but only seems to be used very superficially in terms of how to organise the store. It’s creating an immense build-up of frustration amongst both brand owners and converters.”

Hitherto, impotence within the supply chain has tended to be expressed more in terms of appeasement than anger. However, there are indications too of a growing unease amongst shoppers, who are becoming not so much fed, as fed up with balancing a learned expectation for the multiples’ vision of cheap food with the reality of the bathroom scales.

No offence intended, but the likelihood is that three-quarters of this column’s readership has apparently been spending too long at the trough. And the wrong sort to boot. Food is the latest recruit to the list of things that can kill us. Obesity is being touted as having reached epidemic proportions and, ever primed to capitalise on a golden opportunity. the government is openly considering taxing certain food products.

Regardless of political hue, HMG is unlikely ever to award similar penalties against the multiples. Public opinion, however, is less timorous. Because, let’s be clear about this: crisps haven’t suddenly revealed themselves to be weapons of mass destruction. The problem is simply one of readily available and affordable excess – and at two for the price of one. Weight gain was always a foregone conclusion; ask any Labrador let off the leash.

The contribution of retailers towards expanding Joe Public’s waistband is ripe to be called to account. “The supermarket made me fat” might be neither fair nor even strictly true, but is nonetheless the net result of skilfully structured store layouts reflective of an accrued knowledge of personalised brand and product preferences.

The retail chains could easily facilitate greater awareness of the fact that we are what we eat and help make us slim again. And the packaging industry would play its part in helping to promote healthier and better informed eating habits.

“At the end of the day, the power is with us: the consumers,” prescribes Dr Lewis. “Retailers will follow their nose.”

Looks like it’s overdue a tweak.