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 dozen stores?
Well, I recently took a look at some of those checkout lanes to see just how drastic the changes have been.
The checkout lane, of course, has for decades been a place where retailers have tempted consumers with an indulgent snack as they hit the road -- think candy bars, potato chips, and sugary sodas. It's a junk food junkie's haven and a nutritionist's nightmare. In other words, it usually looks like this:
But Target, as you might recall, is on a health kick these days, reflecting the industrywide shift among consumers who are increasingly looking for more natural and organic and less processed options. Especially among the demographics that shop at Target. 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, which is one of 30 stores that began piloting the healthier check lane in October, 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 popcorn from Angie's Boomchickapop, Skinny Pop, Pretzel Crips, sweet potato tortilla chips from Way Better Snacks, and blue corn chips from Food Should Taste Good.
In other words, it looks more like this:
But in a nod that some consumers still want the other stuff they're used to, the bottom three shelves were full of the more typical offerings such as Pringles, Lays potato chips, Skittles, M&Ms, Twix and the like.
In other parts of the checkout lane, I also found various flavors of beef jerky from Krave as well as roasted jumbo cashews, roasted 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.
"We're testing the envelope to see how far we can push it without annoying our guests," Christina Hennington, Target's senior vice president of merchandising said in September. "They don't want us to tell them how to live their lives."
But she added that Target wants to help consumers make healthy options be the default option.
So what has been the customer response so far to the check 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.
But 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 that they've never heard of.
"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.
Right now, the test is mostly in select stores in Minneapolis, Dallas and Denver markets. Other stores in the Twin Cities that are part of the trial include Eden Prairie, Chanhassen, Minnetonka, Medina, Burnsville, and Apple Valley.