Berlin - Every parent knows that waiting in line at a supermarket checkout with a young child can be torture. Temptation is just a short arm's length away in form of strategically positioned sweets and candy.
But one young Berlin mother decided she had had enough of dealing with cranky children and started a petition to get her local store to open a family-friendly checkout with no sweets.
Health campaigners have long called for supermarkets to stop selling unhealthy snacks near the till. Credit: sxc.hu
Caroline Rosales was successful - even more so than Germany's consumer protection minister, who vainly led a similar initiative three years ago.
Rosales says her campaign was a David and Goliath-like struggle, “for the empowerment of the small consumer”.
The young mother, son Maxime on her arm, was inspired by the non-profit campaigning group Foodwatch, which draws public attention to practices in the food industry that it says are not in the interests of consumers.
Next to the pharmaceutical lobby this is the most aggressive lobby, asserts Rosales, who is also a journalist and an author.
If you have ever witnessed a food-industry press conference against health warnings on chips and chocolate, you might get a sense of where Rosales is coming from.
Rosales quickly found supporters after she started a petition on the Internet platform change.org. She asked for people to sign on against supermarkets that lead their customers through a queue next to alcohol, cigarettes and mountains of sweets.
Rosales' aim is to have fruit and water filling the shelves at a “family cashier”.
Her idea is not brand new but it is cleverly packaged.
Nearly 700 like-minded people have signed her online petition and there are plenty of comments from supporters:
“It's unbearable watching children being manipulated, being teased with sugar that makes them sick and addicted,” wrote one parent.
For Rosales, child raising is more than just regulating what happens at a supermarket cash register. She writes a blog where her mothering philosophy is stated in more sober fashion: “If you can't say no to your kids, you have failed in your parenting method”.
Her campaign could be misinterpreted as the obsession of the type of urban “hipster” mom who sits at the playground with other affluent mothers discussing where to get baby pacifiers that are free of biphenyl A or debating the tough choice between wheat and tofu sandwich spreads. But many in the wider German population share her view.
At the beginning of 2010, Consumer Affairs Minister Ilse Aigner supported the idea of banning sweets from supermarket checkouts and suggested putting fruit there instead.
Germany's business-friendly Free Democrat Party was promptly outraged and spoke about “imposing the government's will on consumers”. The Green party was sceptical that “mother Aigner's” call would be heard.
The confectionery industry held the opinion that her appeal wouldn't help against obesity.
The German Food Trade Association does not take such a rigid view, according to spokesperson Christian Boettcher.
“I have two children myself,” he says. Supermarket waiting lines next to shelves of sweets really put parents to a hard test, he believes.
Boettcher even considers it a great service if areas around cash registers are stocked with differing ranges of “impulse-buy” goods such as fruit. Customers could then decide which line to stand in.
But he cannot see anything wrong in a market driven society where retailers heighten the incentive to buy what people want anyway.
“Otherwise our economy wouldn't work.”
So maybe the supermarket store where Rosales lives has taken a commercially wise step by going with the flow locally. It might even help drive profits in the long run. - Sapa-dpa