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The report found that lower income households spent up to £376m more on frozen foods, like chicken nuggets

Lower-income households are spending £250m more annually on unhealthy food and drink than those on higher incomes, according to a new report.

Impact on Urban Health and Mission Ventures analysed data on product lines across the UK grocery market to reveal 10 categories lacking affordable and healthy options.

The worst-offending categories were: sugar confectionery, frozen meals, bottled soft drinks, canned soft drinks, frozen processed poultry, everyday biscuits, frozen savoury bakery, instant hot snacks, chilled flavoured milk and children’s biscuits.  

These categories were found to account for £4.3bn in annual grocery sales, with over half of that (£2.3bn) coming from households on lower incomes, versus £2bn from households on higher incomes, equating to a £249m disparity. 

The report found that healthy options were “on average three times more expensive per calorie than unhealthy alternatives”, contributing to a proportionally higher spend on unhealthy foods in lower-income households. 

It found that lower-income households spent up to £376m more than their affluent counterparts on frozen ready meals, frozen processed poultry (including chicken nuggets) and frozen bakery items. 

The next-worst offenders were canned soft drinks, instant hot snacks (like pot noodles), and children’s biscuits, on which households on lower incomes were spending up to £286m more than higher-income families.

The report called on the government to bring forward HFSS clampdowns or create “similar legislation” to create “a level playing field for investors, retailers, manufacturers and entrepreneurs, incentivising the need to prioritise health in line with profit, and inadvertently spurring much-needed innovation in categories where there is a dearth of both healthier and affordable options”.

“HFSS was working, and we believe the government should go full throttle on its initial intentions instead of dragging its heels on genuinely good legislation,” said Mission Ventures MD Louis Bedwell.

“Even in anticipation of HFSS coming into force, a fleet of startups seeking to challenge household names with healthier alternatives took off, inspiring many incumbents to do the same through reformulation projects and NPD.

“Supermarkets like Tesco were opening their doors to new, healthier products and giving them better prominence in store. 

“We need regulation like HFSS to allow the major players in the food system to work towards the same goal: health. Real change cannot be achieved by one group alone and while the industry bears heavy responsibility, there are measures that can incentivise action, which this report draws out,” said Bedwell. 

Impact on Urban Health programme director Rebecca Sunter said: “Everyone deserves the opportunity to be healthy and eat well.

“It’s not right that families on lower incomes can’t get enough healthy, affordable food in the places they live, work, and go to school.

“We hope this report opens up the conversation around the potential of healthier challenger brands and the support needed from the food industry, policymakers and investors to make the most of this opportunity to level the playing field,” Sunter added.

The report coincides with the formal launch of the Good Food Programme, an incubator scheme set up by Impact on Urban Health and Misson Ventures, which invests in and supports healthier food and drink startups.

As reported by The Grocer, the Good Food Programme recruited its first cohort of brands in December 2022. Instant soup brand Soul Soup Co, children’s food brand Nana’s Manners and plant-based milk brand Three Robins will each receive £15k of equity-free funding and two years of practical and business support from the startup consultancy to accelerate growth.