Iceland Foods executive chairman Richard Walker has urged ministers to amend regulations that restrict the way retailers can promote price cuts on infant and first formula products.
On Monday, Iceland revealed Walker had written to government ministers calling for them to add an amendment to the proposed Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, which is set to be examined by committee members of the House of Lords this week.
Under current advertising regulations, retailers are restricted from running promotions on baby formula products in a way that is aimed at increasing their sale. A section of the legislation – which is the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula (England) Regulations 2007 – includes a restriction on accepting coupons or loyalty points as payment.
Iceland is calling for any restriction to be removed as part of the amended legislation. There is no precedent for the calls to be considered.
“This amendment would give ministers the chance to strip away regulations which are currently making it harder for families to access more affordable formula. While breastfeeding is always best for babies, the millions who rely on formula are struggling with costs and we believe this amendment would be a big step forward in the campaign to support them,” Walker said.
“I have written to the secretary of state for business and trade, Kemi Badenoch, to outline the proposed amendment and why it is urgently needed, and I encourage politicians on all sides to support it. We can’t just wait for the Competition & Markets Authority finally to act on price gouging in the formula market: families need our help now.”
It’s the latest in a high-profile campaign that began in August after Walker – in his words “illegally” – defied advertising restrictions when he took to TV to promote the fact baby formula products were included in a tranche of Iceland price cuts.
Later that week he launched of a formal campaign, with the announcement that Iceland would accept loyalty points as payment for infant formula products.
His voice adds to what has been growing pressure from campaign groups and regulators for manufacturers to ensure formula products are more widely affordable, following a steep increase in their price during the cost of living crisis.
In November, the CMA published initial findings from its ongoing investigation into competition within the food supply chain. In a section that specifically looked at the infant formula category – using data compiled by First Steps Nutrition Trust – the body found formula prices had risen by 25% over the last two years.
In response, last week Danone slashed the wholesale price of all powdered formulas under the Aptamil brand, by 7.1%. The price cut, which came into force on 15 January, quickly prompted Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Asda to introduce price cuts to Aptamil lines.