jamie oliver

Nearly half of consumers would support legislation banning retailers from having promotions on food and drink with a high sugar content, according to an exclusive poll for The Grocer.

The YouGov survey of 2,000 UK adults found 43% backed a cull of price promotions and bulk buy deals in supermarkets and other retail outlets, as proposed by Public Health England (PHE) last week. 

There was even bigger support - 70% of consumers - in favour of new laws to ban the marketing and advertising of products with high sugar content to children under 16, and widespread backing for a crackdown on the use of celebrities to promote high-sugar products, with 56% supporting regulation to curtail the practice.

However, the survey showed far less public appetite for PHE’s call for a sugar tax, with nearly 60% of consumers saying they did not think it would be effective in reducing obesity.

Nearly a quarter of those polled (22%) said they believed a tax of between 10% and 20% on food and drinks with a high sugar content, such as fizzy drinks, as recommended in PHE’s Sugar Reduction evidence review to ministers, would be “not at all effective”, while a further 35% said it would be “not very effective”.

When it came to Jamie Oliver’s crusade against sugar, 54% said this had not affected their sugar consumption; only 20% said the chef had encouraged them to cut down, while 21% were not aware of his campaign. 

Worryingly for the industry, the survey revealed widespread consumer mistrust of existing product labelling. Of those polled, 62% said they thought food and drink manufacturers deliberately made it hard to understand the sugar content in products. 

“Consumers clearly believe the way products are marketed is going to have a much bigger impact on the amount of sugar people consume than the introduction of any sugar tax,” said Alison Puente, head of corporate communications at Finn PR, which commissioned the poll. 

“This research clearly demonstrates that food and drink companies will need to build brand loyalty based on trust and transparency by providing clear nutritional information, product choice and not being seen to dupe shoppers.” 

Gavin Partington, director general of the BSDA, said: “We stand ready to support moves to rethink the marketing of HFSS products. Clearly the poll finds less public enthusiasm for taxation of particular ingredients or products than some campaigners claim. We believe measures such as continuing to increase reformulation will be significantly more effective.”