Pros and Cons of Promoting Foods High in Fat, Sugar and Salt in the UK

The UK’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) is seeking views on its plans to restrict promotions of food and drink products high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) by location and by price. The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) was one of the firsts organizations to response to the public inquiry. 

The public consultation, which closes on April 6, wants to find out about restricting volume-based price promotions of HFSS food and drink that encourage people to buy more than they need, for example, ‘buy one, get one free’ and free refills of sugary soft drinks; and about restricting the placement of HFSS food and drink at main selling locations in stores, such as checkouts, aisle ends and store entrances.

DHSC explains that, currently, nearly one in four children in England are obese or overweight by the time they start primary school, and this rises to one in three by the time they leave primary school.

Tim Rycroft, FDF chief operating officer, criticizes the initiative. “Announcing this consultation today is grossly insensitive and a monumental distraction when so many food businesses are facing into the abyss of a no-deal Brexit. It looks like the Department of Health and Social Care is out of touch with economic realities and with the rest of Government, whose sole focus now is preventing the catastrophe of no-deal. This consultation – already late – should have waited until the uncertainty we face is resolved.”

He also added this proposed plan is both “wrong-headed and muddled” and says that a promotions ban would make shopping more expensive and reduce choice.

“Shoppers love the UK’s, vibrant, good-value, innovative food and drink market, and promotions underpin that. They allow new products and brands to win space on supermarket shelves and help new products to get shoppers’ attention. Limiting the effectiveness of these mechanisms would stifle innovation and lock-in the positions of dominant brands. It would make it harder for challenger brands and start-ups to break into the market,” Rycroft says.

The FDF representative explains that promotions also play a big role in making food more affordable. Government data shows that, on average, people would have to spend GBP634 a year more for the same food if promotions were banned.

“For more than ten years the food and drink industry has risen to the UK’s significant obesity challenge. Favorite products have been reformulated to reduce sugar, calories, fat and salt. Portion sizes have been limited. Some of these principals have now been adopted as part of Public Health England’s own reformulation programmes. Preventing companies from promoting these reformulated, healthier options to consumers would be mad; but that’s what the Government wants to do. This is a bizarre and contradictory public health policy,” Rycroft concludes.

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