Health chiefs have been branded “out of touch with economic realities” for launching a consultation on banning price promotions while suppliers are facing the threat of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit.
The Department of Health and Social Care has this week announced a public consultation on activity designed to help tackle childhood obesity by restricting placement and volume-based price promotions on food and drink that is high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS).
The Food and Drink Federation has slammed the timing of the announcement, and branded the proposals “wrong-headed and muddled”.
“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,” said FDF chief operating officer Tim Rycroft this weekend.
“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 should have waited until the uncertainty we face is resolved.”
The aim of the government’s plan is to restrict promotions on products that are included in Public Health England’s sugar and calorie reduction programmes (which include biscuits, cakes, confectionery, morning goods, pizzas and pre-packed sandwiches), and are also found to be high in fat, salt and sugar under the 2004/5 nutrient profiling model.
Only volume-based promotions – which require the shopper to buy more to get a discount – are covered under the proposals. These include multi-buy deals, such as buy-one-get-one-free, or buy-X-for-£Y. There are no plans to ban discounts for individual sales of HFSS items.
“Preventing ill health is critical to our long-term plan for the NHS, and I want to do everything in my power to keep people healthy for longer,” said public health minister Steve Brine. “This must start with the health and nutrition of our children.”
“Tackling childhood obesity means working together across society, with industry, public services and families all having a role to play. This is about ensuring businesses are doing their part to shift the balance and help children and families eat healthier options like fruit and vegetables.”
The FDF insisted the food industry had been working to tackle the obesity challenge for more than 10 years.
“Favourite products have been reformulated to reduce sugar, calories, fat and salt. Portion sizes have been limited,” said Rycroft. “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.”
He added that promotions also helped make food more affordable and gave new brands a chance to get shoppers’ attention.
“Limiting the effectiveness of these mechanisms would stifle innovation and lock-in the positions of dominant brands,” he said. “It would make it harder for challenger brands and start-ups to break into the market.”