Buy One Get One Free

Buy One Get One Free

Supermarkets have been over-promoting sugary products in price promotions according to research presented by an academic from the University of East Anglia.

Prof Paul Dobson led a three-year project that focused on consumer behaviour towards food and its impact on overeating and food waste. The study examined the role of food retailers and whether the pricing techniques they use contribute to the excessive consumption of unhealthy food that causes obesity and overbuying, for example through multi-buy offers such as 'buy one get one free' (BOGOF), 'three for the price of two', and price discounts.


It follows a number of initiatives announced recently by supermarkets as part of the Department of Health's Public Health Responsibility Deal, an on-going scheme to get the food industry involved in promoting healthy eating. Examples included improving accessibility to fruit and vegetables and replacing confectionery at till displays with more nutritious foods.

Special offers are worth more than £50bn in sales to supermarkets and account for over a third of all consumer spending. The research analysed supermarket price promotions and whether these are biased in favour of food products high in fat, sugar and/or salt.


Prof Dobson, head of Norwich Business School at UEA, said "I welcome the government's Responsibility Deal and the pledges that supermarkets have so far made to promote healthy eating, but what is required is a comprehensive move away from price promoting unhealthy foods rather than token gestures used for marketing spin.


"It is simply irresponsible for supermarkets to overly promote foods with high sugar and fat content. The food industry must play a much greater role in promoting healthy diets. Food producers can do more by reducing the fat, sugar and salt content of processed foods, while food retailers can ensure that healthy and nutritious choices are available and affordable to all consumers and that they practice responsible marketing. Responsibility lies with both retailers and producers, otherwise regulation might be needed."


The research team, which also included Prof Eitan Gerstner of Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) and Dr Jonathan Seaton at Loughborough University, analysed weekly price and nutrition data of a full range of food and drinks products sold over a year by four UK supermarkets - Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's and Ocado.


They found a bias towards sugary products for price promotions and that straight price discounts are on average more skewed towards unhealthy products. Highly prominent deals, in particular BOGOF offers, tend to be distinctly skewed towards unhealthy 'red traffic light' products high in fat, sugar and salt. Special offers with appealing high discounts tended to be slanted towards more unhealthy products, especially those with high sugar content. However, multi-buys were on average more biased towards healthier items.


On average just over 6000 food items with nutrition data from across the four supermarkets were sampled each week. Over the year Tesco had the highest recorded percentage of items on promotion with 28 per cent, followed by Asda (24), Sainsbury (19) and Ocado (10). 'Two for …' multi-buy offers were the most widely used form of promotion, making up around half of all the special offers.


Prof Dobson, professor of business strategy and public policy, added: "While price promotions can offer savings for consumers they may not be so good for our waistlines and health. With almost a quarter of the population classed as obese, overeating and food waste are serious concerns for modern society.


"There is a healthy choice of supermarket offers available but shoppers need to check carefully what they buy. Hunt for bargains but check ingredients and fill baskets for a balanced diet, and buy only what is needed. This particularly applies for very prominent offers, which can appear very tempting."

The Expert

Professor Paul Dobson

Head Of School
Norwich Business School

A Professor of Business Strategy and Public Policy and Head of Norwich Business School, Paul Dobson joined UEA in July 2010 having previously held the Storaid Chair of Retailing and Chair of Competition Economics at Loughborough University since 1998. He is recognised as a leading international authority on pricing strategy, retail competition, and supply-chain relations. He has written extensively on these matters, advised numerous national and international organisations, and provided regular commentary for a wide range of media (including TV, radio, and news/trade press).