Northern Ireland families spending more on "treat" foods than fruit and vegetables

  • START campaign encourages Northern Ireland parents to rebalance what they spend on fruit and vegetables compared to ‘‘​treats’​’​.

Tuesday 24 April, 2018. Northern Ireland families are spending over £850 a year on “treat” foods in the average weekly food shop, over four times as much as they spend on vegetables.

Data revealed by the Food Standards Agency and safefood states that almost one quarter (24%)¹ of the average weekly family food shop goes towards purchasing highly processed “treat” foods such as crisps, chocolates and sweets. This compares with only 10% of the weekly spend going on fruit and just 7% on vegetables and prepared salads.

The data, from Kantar Worldpanel, found that on average, families with children spent £852 on treat foods in 2016, compared with £317 on fruit and £205 on vegetables.

Chocolate and sweets (£191); sugary drinks (£190); biscuits (£125) and crisps (£111) accounted for almost three-quarters of the annual spend on treat foods.

This only includes shopping taken home from the supermarket and doesn’t account for convenience / on-the go purchases in outlets such as garage forecourts, cafes, cinemas etc.

The data has been released to coincide with the latest phase of START, the five-year public health awareness campaign from safefood, the Department of Health and the Public Health Agency.

The campaign is encouraging families to take the first step towards a healthier lifestyle for their children by supporting them to start with one daily win and to persist with small changes, even if this is challenging.

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition, safefood said;

While we all love to treat our kids and grandkids, highly processed foods such as crisps, chocolates and sweets, which are full of empty calories, have become a staple in our weekly shop. Unfortunately they’re a norm in our children’s daily diet and they are not seen as a real treat any more.”

“These highly processed foods are everywhere, at all times of the year and are so cheap - it’s no wonder that we are finding it difficult not to overindulge our children and ourselves. Regarding being healthy as a family, 40% of parents² cited trying to cut back on sweets, ice-cream etc. as the number one barrier to healthy eating. But it can be done. Half of parents have tried to change their kids eating habits and 8 in 10 have persisted with that change.”

Sharon Gilmore, Head of Standards and Dietary Health, Food Standards Agency said: “These foods and drinks are mostly high in fat, sugar and salt and we recommend eating them less often and in small amounts. We should all aim to eat a varied and balanced diet based on the Eatwell Guide, which includes at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. This will help children feel their best and make a big difference to their long-term health.”

Mary Black, Assistant Director for Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement at the Public Health Agency, said: “Changing the way that we and our children eat can be difficult, but over time by making small daily changes, you can have a positive impact on your health. For instance, swapping a sugary drink for milk or water, or instead of reaching for the crisps, try some plain popcorn as a snack.

“In addition to making healthier snack swaps, it’s also important to recognise that children only need kid-sized portions. At meal times, using a smaller plate for children is a good way of making sure you don’t serve up too much. Small changes like these, combined with being more physically active can help us better manage our weight.”

The ‘START’ campaign has been built on the realities of daily parenting and has been created to help parents get started and build momentum by achieving one daily win, for example, having fruit after school as a snack. Not buying treats in the weekly shop means there’s less of them to have at home. And by linking treats to real occasions like family birthdays and events you can help children to understand what a treat is and that it’s not an everyday thing.

To find out more about the START campaign and ways to make a healthy, positive start visit

infographic showing the amount spent on treats in Northern Ireland

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For further information or to request an interview, please contact

Russell Lever / Vicki Caddy

ASG & Partners

Tel: 028 9080 2000  

Mob: 077 8828 8901 (Russell Lever) / 078 1438 0487 (Vicki Caddy)

Email: /  


Dermot Moriarty / Julie Carroll


Tel: 00353 1 448 0600

Mob: 00353 86 381 1034 (Dermot) / 00353 86 150 3047 (Julie)

Editors notes

¹Kantar Worldpanel provide the Food Standards Agency with take-home food and drink purchasing data for households in Northern Ireland. The data cited details spend in pounds (£) and the percentage of overall spend on food/drinks purchased in the supermarket for the period of January 2016 to January 2017 for households with children under 18 years.

There are 650 households on the Northern Ireland panel that reflect different household types. The panel is nationally representative in terms of age, region, social class, household size and presence of children. As part of the task, panel members scan all food and non-alcoholic drink brought into the home, using bar code scanner technology.

²IPSOS MRBI / safefood November 2017. Survey of 971 parents on the island of Ireland; In-home, face-to-face interviews.

About the START campaign

The START campaign is a five-year public health campaign to set families on the path to a healthier future. Developed with the input of parents, health professionals and community leaders, the campaign focuses on seven key lifestyle habits:

  • Minimise intake of foods high in fat, salt and sugar
  • Establish water and milk as routine drinks
  • Give appropriate child-sized portions to children
  • Include more fruit and vegetables across the week
  • Increase physical activity levels
  • Limit screen time
  • Increase sleep time

The campaign was developed using a ‘co-creation’ approach which involved working with parents in particular, and key stakeholders to ensure the campaign was relevant, realistic and could achieve results.

  • Foods high in fat and/or sugar currently account for one fifth (20%) of children’s total calorie intake in Northern Ireland
  • These foods also account for 25% of children’s total fat intake.

Source: Children aged 4-18 in the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, yrs 1-4- (2008/9 – 2011/12) combined.

  • Among children aged 11-18, the average consumption of fruit & vegetables is 2.3 portions per day.
  • 96% of children aged 11 to 18 years in Northern Ireland did not meet the five-a-day recommendation for fruit & vegetable consumption.

National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS RP):, Results from Years 1-4 (combined) for Northern Ireland (2008/09-2011/12)

B. B, A. L, Prentice A, Bates C, Page P, Nicholson S, et al. National Diet and Nutrition Survey Rolling Programme (NDNS RP) Results from years 1-4 (combined) for Northern Ireland (2008/09-2011/12). 2017.

About the Food Standards Agency (FSA)

The Food Standards Agency is responsible for food safety, food hygiene and nutrition policy in Northern Ireland. The Agency delivers policies designed to improve people’s diet by ensuring healthier food choices are easier for everyone to make. Advice on eating well and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be found in the Eatwell Guide.