The effect of on-shelf sugar labeling on beverage sales in the supermarket: a comparative interrupted time series analysis of a natural experiment

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BACKGROUND: Nutrition labels show potential in increasing healthy food and beverage purchases, but their effectiveness seems to depend on the type of label, the targeted food category and the setting, and evidence on their impact in real-world settings is limited. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of an industry-designed on-shelf sugar label on the sales of beverages with no, low, medium and high sugar content implemented within a real-world supermarket.

METHODS: In week 17 of 2019, on-shelf sugar labels were implemented by a Dutch supermarket chain. Non-alcoholic beverages were classified using a traffic-light labeling system and included the beverage categories "green" for sugar free (< 1.25 g/250 ml), "blue" for low sugar (1.25-6.24 g/250 ml), "yellow" for medium sugar (6.25-13.5 g/250 ml) and "amber" for high sugar (> 13.5 g/250 ml). Store-level data on beverage sales and revenue from 41 randomly selected supermarkets for 13 weeks pre-implementation and 21 weeks post-implementation were used for analysis. In total, 30 stores implemented the on-shelf sugar labels by week 17, and the 11 stores that had not were used as comparisons. Outcome measures were differences in the number of beverages sold in the four label categories and the total revenue from beverage sales in implementation stores relative to comparison stores. Analyses were conducted using a multiple-group Interrupted Time Series Approach. Results of individual store data were combined using random effect meta-analyses.

RESULTS: At the end of the intervention period, the changes in sales of beverages with green (B 3.4, 95%CI -0.3; 7.0), blue (B 0.0, 95%CI -0.6; 0.7), yellow (B 1.3, 95%CI -0.9; 3.5), and amber (B 0.9, 95%CI -5.5; 7.3) labels were not significantly different between intervention and comparison stores. The changes in total revenues for beverages at the end of the intervention period were also not significantly different between intervention and comparison stores.

CONCLUSION: The implementation of an on-shelf sugar labeling system did not significantly decrease unhealthy beverage sales or significantly increase healthier beverage sales. Nutrition labeling initiatives combined with complementary strategies, such as pricing strategies or other healthy food nudging approaches, should be considered to promote healthier beverage purchases.

Original languageEnglish
Article number49
Pages (from-to)49
JournalThe international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Grocery store
  • Interrupted time series analysis
  • Natural experiment
  • Nutritional labeling
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages

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