HFSS food & drinks

HFSS food & drinks

Suppliers have been given fresh hope of a last minute rethink of plans for a crackdown on HFSS promotions, following reports the Treasury has launched a review into the plans.

Today, The Guardian reported the review had been ordered as part of a wider drive to cut the regulatory burden on businesses, with the promotions ban predicted to cost more than £1bn a year in lost sales.

During her leadership campaign, Prime Minister Liz Truss suggested she would bin the already-delayed ban on multibuy deals, such as bogofs, but The Grocer reported last month that some supplier sources were hopeful of a wider rollback, despite a ban on location promotions due to swing into operation in October.

The Guardian quoted Whitehall sources as saying the review was “deregulatory in focus” and said it could lead to a raft of anti-obesity policies inherited from Boris Johnson being binned.

It claims the review would look at the possibility of scrapping the calorie counts on menus in cafés, takeaways and restaurants designed to encourage people to choose healthier dishes, which came into force in April, as well as plans for a junk food advertising watershed on TV and an online ban being canned, having also already been delayed for a year.

“People want the government to deliver on issues such as transport, public services, broadband and cutting NHS waiting lists, rather than “telling them what to eat”, Truss said in her recent party leadership campaign.

The report has also sparked fresh speculation, already reported by The Grocer, that the government may look again at the soft drink sugar levy, which came into force in 2018, as a way to reduce costs to industry.

The government has already rejected plans, set out in Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy, to expand taxes to cover other products.

However, today’s reports sparked a furious backlash from health campaigners, with almost two-thirds of adults in Britain overweight or obese and obesity costing the NHS an estimated £1.6bn a year.

“There is no evidence the SDIL is hampering the soft drinks industry, whilst it has removed over 48 million kgs of sugar from drinks since 2015,” said Barbara Crowther, director of the Children’s Food Campaign.

“And the independent impact study found this was associated with a 30g per week per household reduction in sugar consumption. Threatening to reverse it now would be a total mistake and an own-goal, which would only create more chaos in a food and drink sector that does not need it.”

She added: “It’s clear that this is being suggested as a measure to return money to business specifically, so there’s no public benefit to such a decision – it would only hit cash-strapped schools and taxpayers, as well as the NHS in dealing with the dental and diet-related diseases associated with excessive sugar consumption.

“We know Boris Johnson previously also threatened to do this, but after commissioning a review, led by Professor Chris Whitty, the idea was dropped.

“We are now weeks away from the implementation of the location promotions, and all the evidence is that industry has invested significant time and energy into compliance now, so introducing this 11th-hour havoc is the last thing everyone needs. Tesco and Sainsbury’s have of course both committed to also ending multibuy deals regardless of the 12-month delay to those plans.”

Professor Graham MacGregor, chair of Action on Sugar and Action on Salt added: “Scrapping the government’s evidence-based obesity strategy would be disastrous to both public health and also to the many food businesses which have spent years and vast amounts of money preparing for this change in policy.

“Now, more than ever, the UK population need equitable access to healthy, affordable food and this can only be achieved with policies designed to rebalance our food system.

”The government must now commit to key measures such as mandatory targets for calories, sugar and salt reduction, well enforced marketing and promotions restrictions (including shortening the delay to ban junk food multi-buys) and clearer and mandatory food labelling. Our new Prime Minister must also honour Number 10’s levelling up promise and protect the nation’s health from the devastating effects of unhealthy diets high in saturated fat, salt and sugar (and lacks fruit and vegetables) which is the biggest cause of death and disability globally and costs the UK more than £100 billion (combined) annually.”

The Obesity Health Alliance said a rowback on the obesity strategy would be a “kick in the teeth”.

However, trade bodies have been stepping up their support for a “bonfire of red tape”.

FDF chief executive Karen Betts said: “Ministers can help our sector by addressing burdensome taxes and unsuitable regulations, as they have committed to do.

“A clear focus on ensuring our sector is well placed to grow out of this crisis is critical – swift measures to simplify regulation, reduce red tape and boost productivity will be decisive, alongside support with energy costs.”