TCS Daily

Weight Loss in the Supermarket

By Val MacQueen - May 5, 2004 12:00 AM

Soon, in addition to parking rage outside and trolley rage in the aisles, British supermarket shoppers are to be introduced to an exciting new source of in-store fury: exercise rage.

Supposedly worried about the excess baggage being hauled around by many of its shoppers, Tesco, Britain's largest and most successful supermarket chain, has come up with an innovative trolley that will give you a workout while you make your way to the ice cream freezers. It uses the same resistance technology as that employed in gym machines. The user can program it to be harder to push, increasing the heartbeat and exercising muscles in the legs, arms and stomach, just like in the gym.

It even gives little readouts. Sensors in the handle bar allow the shopper to monitor his heart rate and count calories as well as measure how much distance they've covered roaming the aisles.

According to The Telegraph newspaper, "Wayne Asher, who designed the trolley on behalf of the German manufacturer Wanzl, claims a 40-minute shopping trip with the trolley set at resistance level seven (it goes from one to 10) would burn off about 280 calories. That is equivalent to half an hour jogging, he said, and 30 percent more than the number of calories expended shopping with a standard trolley."

This is all very nice of Tesco, but how are the arm-surfers in stretch polyester, leaning on their trolleys for support as they wend their placid way around the aisles, going to feel? Angry, is my guess. Formerly a palace of democracy -- we are all equal before the seafood counter -- the supermarket is going to be ramped up into a vicious war of "them" and "us". It won't be long, after all, before thin people start wearing leotards and Lycra with matching headbands to go to the supermarket. Not content with parking just over the line next to your car in an SUV that gives out a shriek of electronic rage because you touched it trying to open your own door, now the Cs and Ds are going to have to tolerate cooling down exercises in the checkout line and sudden stopping to massage cramped muscles, blocking access to the hamburger freezer compartments.

The trolley may be set at a resistance level of 10, but the more conventional shoppers may have a resistance level somewhat higher and more heartfelt. I foresee angry cross-aisle parking to impede those coming through with what instinct tells us will be the aggressive attitude of joggers toward traffic. Seeing a trolley splayed across the aisle while a fat shopper considers the merits of the offerings on the cookie shelves, someone giving her calves and heart a workout to the max may be tempted to ram the trolley barricade with perhaps more energy than is strictly required to conquer that 10 mark. Quick-thinking fatties may retain their hold on their non-resistant handles and regard any bumping of their trolleys with extreme aggression -- and they do, after all, have bulk on their side.

How long before perky exercisers pair up like joggers, blasting down the aisles as a duo and clipping a fat bottom leaning peacefully over the open frozen pie freezer in innocent contemplation?

And all this conspicuous expenditure of calories is to be at the expense of the supermarket itself, which will be paying vastly more money for these exercise trolleys. How soon will the resentful have-nots demand deluxe motorized and seated versions for themselves, as the supermarket descends into dodgem hell?

Worse, apart from driving obese people off their trolleys, these trendy new devices would seem to be not a particularly savvy contribution to the bottom line. What sporty shopper having raised his heart rate to the point of lunacy and worked off 280 calories zipping up and down the aisles is going to load up at the Haagen-Dazs stop? We may see a drop in the sales of luxury sugary and fatty items, which doesn't seem to be a good idea from Tesco's point of view. Worse, exercising shoppers may be reluctant to stop anywhere to pick items off the shelves once they've got their speed up.

However, Tesco is a very savvy and successful marketing outfit, just recently posting group sales up 18.7 percent to £33.6 billion and underlying group profits up by 21.9 percent in a country of just 59 million people with a wide range of competitors to choose from.

There may be wheels within wheels at work in the minds Tesco planners. Development of the prototype trolley cost Tesco "around £2,000", according to the company's Gary Wheeldon. Six months down the line we may find charges introduced for the use of exercise trolleys. Or they may have other health gadgets planned for whose use they will charge. One thing's for sure: Tesco will have figured out the line of least resistance for the shopper.


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