New, healthier look at Target checkout lanes

Remember the buzz back in September when Target said that it was getting rid of the junk food (or some of it) in the checkout lane and replacing it with healthier options in a test rolling out to a couple of dozen stores?

Well, the chain has experimented with the concept in several stores, including Edina, Eden Prairie, Chanhassen, Minnetonka, Medina, Burnsville and Apple Valley.

In a nod to these changing consumer preferences, the retailer is working on an overhaul of its grocery department and is also testing some better-for-you options with its in-store cafes. And it is also taking a closer look at those notorious checkout lanes.

At the Edina SuperTarget, the junk food was still there, but pushed down to the lowest shelves. The better-for-you options were given more prominent placement. In one lane, the top shelf was given over to Peeled Snacks apple clusters, Bark Thins dark chocolate clusters, and Veggie-Go's organic chewy fruit and veggie snacks.

The next shelf down featured Kind and Clif granola bars and Little Duck Organics fruit gummie snacks. The third shelf had snack bags. But instead of Cheetos, it had choices such as popcorn from Angie's Boomchickapop.

In a nod to the fact that some consumers still want the other stuff they're used , the bottom three shelves were full of the more typical offerings, such as Pringles, Lay's potato chips, Skittles, M&Ms, Twix and the like.

In other parts of the checkout lane, there were various flavors of beef jerky from Krave as well as roasted cashews and almonds and blueberry nut trail mix from Archer Farms, which is one of Target's private-label brands.

The end-caps, which is the part of the lane that faces the store, featured other better-for-you snacks such as freeze-dried mango slices from Simply Balanced, another Target brand, and bags of granola from Bear Naked. One whole end-cap was full of bananas.

So what has been the customer response to the checkout lane test? Katie Boylan, a Target spokeswoman, said last week that consumers have been "responding well" to the new options. The beef jerky and natural fruit snacks have been selling particularly well, she said.

"It's generally a place where parents are asked — or begged — by their children for a treat, so being able to grab a quick snack that is better for you is a nice change," she said.

Target is also finding out that there is a delicate balancing act. Customers have said they don't want to be introduced to new brands at the checkout lane.

"The frame of mind is really not about new products," said Boylan. "Check lanes are places where they gravitate toward brands they know well."

The test is still ongoing. There's no word yet on whether Target will expand it to more stores.