Berkeley may be first in nation to ban big groceries from selling junk food at checkout lines

The Berkeley City Council on Tuesday said no to Snickers, Skittles, and soda at the checkout line.

The unanimous vote on the "Healthy Checkout Ordinance" said grocery stores bigger than 2,500 square feet will no longer be allowed to sell unhealthy food and beverages at the check-out line, and instead are encouraged to offer more nutritious food and drink. Only food items with no more than 5 grams of added sugars or 250 milligrams of sodium per serving would be allowed.

Sugary treats will still be allowed in the store, just not at the checkout line, where impulse buys are more common. 

Councilmember Kate Harrison told KTVU the ordinance is not a ban on junk food, but rather a nudge in the right direction. She said the city is trying to give parents more opportunities to say yes to their children at the registers when they ask for a snack. She said the changes should not affect the profit margin of stores.


“The amount of money made off of a health bar made by the same company that makes Snickers is more than the Snickers bar,” Harrison said. “The profit on an apple is more than four bags of Doritos, so we think stores won't see any diminution in sales.”

The East Bay Times reports Berkeley may be the first in the nation, if not the world, to pass such a health food policy.  Berkeley was also the first in the nation to pass a soda tax in 2014.

"I think the whole thing is typical Berkeley to be the first to do everything and to make it a political issue," resident Bill Brown said. 

A total of 25 retailers throughout the city would have to adhere to the ordinance including stores such as Safeway, Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and the Berkeley Bowl.

The East Bay Times reported that Simone Dasilva, a nutritionist with Berkeley Youth Alternatives, said unhealthy food choices could lead to diabetes and obesity. About 75% of Americans are overweight and diet is the number one cause of chronic disease, she said.

Holly Scheider, a public health policy expert who supports the ordinance, said two years of research went into the policy with the help of the group, Bay Area Community Resources, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

“We have a team of youth advocates that conducted several focus groups and interviews and collected 700 signatures from Berkeley residents asking for this,” Scheider said.

According to Scheider, Mi Tierra Foods on San Pablo Avenue has already been testing out healthier options in their checkout aisles and customers have enjoyed the changes.

The new ordinance won’t go into effect until March 1, 2021, and enforcement won’t begin until Jan. 1, 2022. Enforcement would include a regular health inspection. The ordinance was authored by councilmembers Kate Harrison and Sophie Hahn. 

KTVU photographer Douglass Vaughan and reporter Cristina Rendon contributed to this report.