UK Food and Drink Federation warns consumers will pay more amid government regulatory moves

The UK’s Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has expressed major concern over a series of government policies that will cost the sector a projected additional £8 billion over the next three years, making product ranges more expensive, reports Neill Barston.

As the trade organisation, representing a broad range of business segments including key players within the confectionery, snacks and bakery markets, releases its latest report, it has warned the ‘sector is close to breaking point.’

Consequently, the situation meaning consumers are likely to have to pay notably more for their groceries amid key upcoming regulatory changes including advertising bans, plastic packaging levies and sugar and salt taxes that have been unveiled in recent months.

The study, titled  ‘Eating into household budgets: the Government’s recipe for food price inflation’, the FDF has estimated that if the cost of forthcoming Government policies were passed on directly to consumers, it would increase the price of food and drink shopping per household by more than £160 per year.

What’s more, it suggests poorer socio-economic households would see their shopping bills increase by 11%, the same proportion of their entire food shop which is currently spent on fresh vegetables.

According to ONS estimates, a household of one adult and one child in the poorest 10% by income spends £45 per week on food and drink, meaning the Government’s proposals could lead to an increase in food and drink spending of nearly 7%.

As the FDF noted, manufacturers, including those within confectionery, have worked to absorb increases in the cost of raw materials – which have increased by an inflation-busting 17% since the start of this year according to figures from the Bank of England. With the added pressures amid the pandemic that this has created, the federation says that businesses will have no choice but to pass this on to consumers.

The FDF calculates that the cost to the food and drink industry of proposed UK Government policies around public health and sustainability is at least £8 billion. This is before factoring in the suggested taxes on salt and sugar as outlined in Henry Dimbleby’s recent National Food Strategy report. These additional costs from Government policies also come at a time of rising global inflationary pressures.

The policies include the reforming of Extended Producer responsibility for the disposal of post-consumer goods (£1.7bn), a Deposit Return Scheme on food and drink packaging (£850m), and the introduction of promotional restrictions on HFSS foods (£833m).

Call for re-examination 

The FDF is calling on the Government to reconsider these policies, which it addresses in its report, and their unintended consequences, as well as fundamental reforms to the UK’s regulatory architecture, in order to ensure future policy is effective and well-targeted.

It also argues that in the long-term any additional costs will likely increase indebtedness, reduce competitiveness and see investment decline, particularly at a time when businesses are seeking to recover from a difficult period of economic uncertainty.

Food and drink is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK, and if the Government is serious about levelling up it needs to incentivise the sector and not pile on extra costs. 97% of all food and drink businesses are SMEs, and it is they who are more greatly exposed to these risks.

Ian Wright, (above) CEO of the FDF said: “Food and drink manufacturers are close to breaking point. Through the last 16 months our workers have made truly heroic efforts to keep the country fed. Yet now they face a combination of challenges which threaten to deliver food price inflation to already hard-pressed households.

“We absolutely accept the need to address the pressing concerns around sustainability and obesity. Our members are doing so on an epic scale through active commitments to net zero and reformulation. The Government needs to understand the costs of the changes it is demanding and the impact it would have on the cost of household food and drink shopping.

“The suggestion that we should introduce further food taxes at this time is madness. It is an insult to the hardworking families of this country to be told what to do by those who can’t begin to imagine how tough the last year has been.

“The UK enjoys a fantastic range of food and drink at a range of price-points. Our industry has done an incredible job of keeping that cost low for the last three decades. But that period is now at an end. Double digit percentage increases in food expenditure for the poorest households are highly likely in the coming years unless the Government pauses to the consider the consequences of its plans.”

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