Food and Drink Federation expresses concern on ‘devastating impact’ of promotions restrictions

The UK’s Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has responded with concern at what it considered a ‘devastating impact’ of introducing restrictions on promotions of product lines including snacks and confectionery, writes Neill Barston.

According to the Department for Health and Social Care, the new guidelines will apply to ‘buy one get one free’ offers for ranges considered high in fat content within prominent  supermarket store locations from April 2022, in a bid to tackle childhood obesity.

Furthermore, the government said that ‘unhealthy promotions’ would also no longer be featured in key locations, such as at checkouts, store entrances, aisle ends and their online equivalents, as part of its measures – which the FDF, representing a broad cross-section of the industry, including key confectionery and snacks groups, said it is already engaged with its own initiatives on the issue.

Tim Rycroft, Chief Operating Officer, Food and Drink Federation summed up the sector’s concern at timing of the move – amid the peak Christmas season, and as the industry is responding to an 11th hour Brexit agreement that will impact on trading conditions between the UK and the EU. In his view, the organisation had been ignored by the government in how the matter had been handled to date.

He said: “It is breathtaking and insulting that the government thinks it right to issue this document during the Christmas holidays, at the end of a year in which food and drink manufacturers have continued to toil selflessly to keep the country fed during the Covid-19 pandemic.  Food and drink companies are fully engaged with that task – and with trying frantically to prepare for new trading rules with the EU that were only revealed on Christmas Eve.  They will have no bandwidth to devote to this flawed policy until the difficult first weeks of Brexit, post-transition, are out of the way.

“Since these ideas were first mooted some 18 months ago, the FDF has produced copious evidence of the devastating impact these proposals will have for both industry and shoppers. The proposed restrictions will not only increase the cost of food for families but it will have harsh economic impacts for food and drink manufacturers who are already bracing themselves for the new costs of Brexit and the repercussions of the global pandemic – all for an average daily 15-calorie reduction.

Rycroft added that the Government’s efforts to improve public health were welcome, but noted that true collaboration between industry and the Government is needed to agree the practicalities of implementation. He added that the FDF has continually attempted to engage with these proposals, as well as ideas on how to implement them in a way which both works for businesses – and achieves better health outcomes.

“We recognise that multibuy deals (e.g. 2 for £1) and placement of food and drinks at checkouts are best focussed on healthier options. However, other areas in store should not be restricted by such bans. These key selling locations help to make shoppers aware of new and seasonal products throughout the year, and incentivise competition between businesses.

“We are deeply concerned that these proposals risk hindering progress with voluntary reformulation, something industry has worked with Public Health England on for the past decade. Preventing manufacturers from promoting these reformulated, healthier options to shoppers is illogical – and completely contradicts the policy aim.  It will be hard to persuade some manufacturers to continue to reformulate when their efforts are punished in this way.

“We urge the Government, even at this late stage, to engage with industry to ensure that the policies introduced will be practical and evidence-based, that a sufficient period of adjustment will be allowed and that disincentives to reformulate are withdrawn.”

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