Controversial plans to get retailers to sign up to sweeping reductions in the promotion of foods high in fat, salt or sugar – including the voluntary removal of so-called ‘guilt lanes’ – seem once again back on the government agenda.
Minutes from a meeting of the Department of Health’s high-level steering group on the Responsibility Deal also suggest restrictions on HFSS products featuring on aisle ends could be back on the cards, alongside plans to get retailers to commit a new, as yet unspecified, percentage of promotions that should be skewed towards healthy products.
The group said some retailers were already moving towards major changes in store, with some bringing in “overarching” rules to ensure at least 30% of promotions are for healthier food.
In addition, the group has tabled proposals to secure agreements from companies to not use licensed characters on packing to promote HFSS foods, plans to “age-gate” companies’ social media sites and is discussing a new voluntary code over website and mobile phone advertising.
The DH, which will meet with food industry leaders and NGOs later this month to discuss the proposals, is also looking at the thorny issue of how companies could adopt an EU pledge being developed with the aim of limiting in-store advertising of HFSS foods aimed at children under 12, similar to restrictions already in place on TV.
The revelations come as former health minister Anna Soubry – who had fiercely resisted such plans – was moved to the Ministry of Defence during the Cabinet reshuffle earlier this week. In July, Soubry told The Grocer it was down to supermarkets to decide where to place products, and accused critics of ‘guilt lanes’ of talking “nonsense”.
Discussions about the proposals will be a baptism of fire for her replacement Jane Ellison, a former John Lewis veteran, who will face huge pressure from NGOs, many of whom quit the Responsibility Deal following backtracking from the government over minimum pricing and plain packaging on cigarettes.
Last week, the Grocer reported that a string of industry groups, including the British Retail Consortium and the Food and Drink Federation, had walked out of talks in Scotland aimed at fast-tracking plans for a radical clampdown on in store display of HFSS foods.
The Scottish government has asked the British Standards Institution to draw up plans that would see some foods, including cheese and sausages, banished to the top shelf.
While the plans outlined in the steering group’s minutes don’t go as far, some in the industry nevertheless see them as the thin end of the wedge.
Cconsumer rights pressure group Which?, one of the non-industry groups involved in the talks, is already saying moves by the industry to date have not gone far enough. It has called for a Responsibility Deal pledge that would commit companies, among other things, to at least 50% of foods in price promotions being for so-called healthier options.