In December 2020, the government published its response to the 2019 consultation on restricting promotions of a wide range of foods and drinks high in fat, sugar or salt. This confirmed its plans to restrict promotional offers to shoppers such as buy-one-get-one-free deals.
The FDF and our members fully support the government’s goal of reducing obesity. However, we have serious doubts as to whether restricting promotions will be an effective policy, and concerns about the unintended consequences this may have on consumers.
As a result, we have recently commissioned a survey with BritainThinks to explore how shoppers use promotions when visiting the supermarket.
Our survey found that most shoppers (73%) usually or always purchase products that are on promotion when shopping. Shoppers perceived a variety of benefits from promotions, including stocking up on food for the future and trying new products. More specifically, nearly two-thirds of participants (62%) agreed that promotions were an important way to save money on food and drink. As such, it is understandable that the majority of shoppers (72%) want promotions on food and drink to continue.
More worryingly, the findings supported our concerns that removing promotions could increase the price of consumers’ food shops. When asked, a quarter of respondents suggested that if there were no promotions, they would be concerned about the affordability of their shopping. If we split this into different demographics from the survey, we found that younger adults, parents of young children, BAME groups, and people more concerned about being able to afford their weekly shop, more frequently purchased items on promotion.
While we fully support the government’s aims, we are concerned that it intends to press ahead with a policy that has limited evidence and that may have a detrimental impact on food affordability, particularly at a time of great economic uncertainty.
The current economic climate is going to present challenges for family finances, and there is evidence to suggest that during a recession, many people increasingly rely on promotions to help them save money. We have also already seen evidence of the impact of promotional restrictions on food prices – at the start of lockdown we saw food prices rise by 2.4%, fuelled by a 15% fall in promotions, which accounted for over half of this inflationary spike.
The Covid-19 crisis has made the need to tackle obesity with effective policy ever more urgent. However, the government must consider these broader impacts, and ensure that if it does move forward with these plans, a comprehensive and independent review is undertaken, and that the policy is revoked if it is ineffective or leads to damaging consequences.