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There are strict rules on how retailers and manufacturers can market infant formula products

Iceland Foods executive chairman Richard Walker has called for a change in advertising laws that prevent retailers from promoting price reductions on baby formula and first milk products.

On Tuesday, the supermarket said it was including 14 lines of branded baby formula within a programme of price cuts it announced as part of a £26m investment outlined in July. Walker then made several television appearances, including on Sky and GB News, announcing the reductions.

However, under current UK legislation, manufacturers and retailers are banned from including infant formulas in price promotions, or undertaking any other promotional activity aimed at increasing its sale.

“We have communicated about these significant price drops … which is actually illegal,” Walker said in a tweet on Wednesday. “We are prohibited from telling customers about price drops on infant formula.

“This seems archaic during a cost of living crisis? We need a change in legislation so supermarkets can communicate price drops that customers desperately need without fear of reprimand.”

It is not clear whether the retailer will face any action for promoting the price cuts. The supermarket has also not commented on whether it will launch a formal campaign.

Campaigners have called for change

The legislation – which is outlined in the Infant Formula, Follow-on Formula (England) Regulations 2007 – was introduced to ensure that the marketing of formula milk does not discourage breastfeeding.

The regulations also restrict the way follow-on and infant formula products are advertised in store.

Like many staples, the price of infant formula has surged during the cost of living crisis as a result of higher production costs, leading to concerns from campaign groups, including the Food Foundation, over the impact on children’s health if parents are unable afford formulas.

A petition calling on the government to review legislation to enable retailers to accept loyalty points as payment for infant formula, started by the charity Feed UK, has received more than 40,000 signatures since July.

Iceland emphasised that it still supported breastfeeding as the preferred source of nutrients for babies. However, rising costs were “placing unbearable pressure on parents who choose to or have no alternative” to using formula milk. 

The price cut, which is in place until the end of 2023, will see the price of some lines drop by up to 20%. Among the products included are Aptamil 800g First Infant Milk, which will drop from £14.50 to £12; SMA three-pack First Infant Milk will fall by 50p to £2.50; and Cow & Gate 800g Growing Up Milk, which will fall by £1 to £9.50.

The biggest drop is to Kendamil 800g Stage 3 Milk, which will fall from £14 to £9.25.

“More and more parents across the country are living in fear about being able to feed their babies, and they don’t feel supermarkets are doing enough to help them,” Walker said.

“At Iceland we’re just not willing to have that on our conscience. Reducing the price on formula is the right thing to do to support our customers.”

Read more: Iceland’s Richard Walker on his Mount Everest epiphany