UK government’s rejection of its own studies on high fat and sugar taxes causes key concerns

Funny family on a background of bright blue wall. Mother and her daughter girl are having fun with colorful donuts. Dieting concept and junk food. Yellow, pink and turquoise colors.

The latest news that the UK government is minded not to introduce legislation on high fat and sugar ranges, including confectionery and snacks, has been greeted by a considerable level of concern from some quarters.

Clearly, health campaigners have long suggested the need for such measures in light of Public Health England’s voluntary industry approach failing to see any meaningful reduction in sugar levels of chocolate confectionery over the past five years – with results actually showing the true picture of one that has been going in reverse, with even higher quantities of the key ingredient entering the supply chain.

Indeed, the government’s own report on the issue has asserted the need for regulations to be introduced for the sector in a similar manner to those for the drinks industry, which has seen regulations prompt businesses to steer down a path of reformulation on a far quicker basis. The obvious motivating factor being the legislative carrot of saving a significant amount of money through complying with the latest codes.

However, on the flipside with confectionery, there are many who believe that attempting to cut out large volumes of sugar from key brands is a mission that is not destined for success, given just how important the ingredient is to a host of product ranges. Premium chocolate, and many snacks ranges in particular, have been based on an element of being indulgent confectionery that have never been intended to be marketed as health ranges. They are by definition considered a treat.

That said, there have been some notable efforts in the past couple of years from the likes of Mars, Mondelez, Cargill and Barry Callebaut and ingredients companies such as Bunge Loders Croklaan in developing commercially viable solutions that are considered as being better-for-you, as well as being better for the environment.

This is a product development area of global significance that is not likely to go away any time soon, as consumers seek out an ever more expanded array of healthier options, with confectionery and snacks being very much an segment of close attention for manufacturers keen to respond to market demands.

But as to whether taxes should be applied to those categories that remain higher in fat and sugar, it’s a debate that has raged for a number of years now, and has attracted views from across the spectrum of industry. To some, it represents very much a notion of ‘nanny state’ interference, while to health campaigners, the alarming statistics from the NHS indicating that around two thirds of UK adults are considered obese (as well as a third of children leaving primary school), isn’t something that industry can distance itself from. It will be interesting to see what policies finally emerge from the present confusion that is generating a number of national newspaper headlines.

Neill Barston, editor, Confectionery Production

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