junk food burger eating Unsplash

We all want the government to let us get back to normal. But the more one learns about the world it’s envisaging for the food and drink industry, the more unpalatable it looks.

This week environment secretary George Eustice almost ripped his face mask off as he anticipated an end to social distancing measures on 19 July, the new so-called ‘Freedom Day’ – apart from in Scotland.

Eustice, of course, was one of the many ministers who lauded food and drink industry workers as heroes of the pandemic, acknowledging that without the sector’s bravery, hard work, and creativity, the nation could easily have run out of food.

Yet before details of Freedom Day have even been confirmed, large sections of the industry are now cast in the role of villains. This week’s announcement of a ban on ‘junk food’ ads online and before the 9pm watershed will cost £200m a year, according to even the government’s conservative estimates.

Some products and categories – like honey, Marmite and milk – have been spared following The Grocer’s Weigh It Up campaign, all those years ago. And smaller suppliers are set to be exempt. But that could create some ridiculous distortions. It’s also a bad day for food scientists, and for suppliers who’ve spent millions trying to make their products healthier.

The strategy also completely overlooks the fact that products packed full of artificial sweeteners can be promoted ad infinitum, on the basis they are no longer classified as ‘junk’.

The HFSS ad ban hammer blow is not the only measure coming down the track. The yet-to-be-fleshed-out ban on HFSS promotions could fundamentally affect featured space strategies, while the plastic tax and extended producer responsibilities will add further alarming cost against the backdrop of soaring commodity prices, labour shortages and transport costs.

For now, the return of promotions, following their suspension in the early months of the pandemic, is resulting in negative inflation. It won’t be long until benign conditions unwind, extra costs kick in, and restrictions make merry hell.