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Supermarkets have been accused of failing to do enough to do enough to help millions of children facing food poverty caused by the cost of living crisis.

A poll of more than 10,000 parents, released by the Food Foundation and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, calls for a series of measures including discounted fruit & veg ranges, promotions on bread and milk, and reduced prices for the healthiest ranges of products.

The foundation has also called on supermarkets to ensure their budget ranges are available in convenience stores as well as larger stores. It said this would help prevent lower-income families from being forced to switch to cheaper alternative foods that had poor nutritional value and increased the risk of obesity.

In the poll, nearly 90% of parents said having a range of discounted fruit & veg would help them feed their children.

A raft of supermarkets already run regular promotions on selected fruit & veg items, but the foundation said the level of support stopped short of being “meaningful”.

Its latest data shows almost one in four households with children report having to skip meals, suffer from hunger or go a whole day without eating.

It added that the figures showed no improvement over the winter, which it said demonstrated not enough was being done to protect children from the negative impact of high food prices.

The figures show 57% of food insecure households said they were cutting down on fruit & veg because of the financial crisis, compared with 11% of food secure households.

Meanwhile, 42% of food insecure households said they were cutting down compared with 6% of food secure households, and 54% buying less fish, compared with 14% of food secure households.

The poll is the latest criticism by the Food Foundation of supermarkets’ reaction to the financial crisis.

Last month it told The Grocer retailers were not doing enough to support the government’s under-fire Healthy Start Scheme, which has struggled to reach children and parents eligible for food vouchers, despite all the main supermarkets taking part.

The foundation said only two retailers, Iceland and Sainsbury’s, had actively marketed the scheme.

However, research by experts at Cambridge University revealed by The Grocer has shown supermarkets have run at least 75 initiatives in the later part of 2022 and early 2023 aimed at helping families cope with the cost of living crisis.

This week Morrisons launched the latest, an £8.99 two-course deal available in every Morrisons café nationwide from today until 2 April, which would also allow kids to eat free.

Its annoucement of the scheme said the menu for children would; include “favourites such as fish fingers & chips or chicken nuggets, chips & peas”.

However, it said all items from the children’s menu were served with a piece of fruit and a drink.

The foundation has called on all supermarkets to sign up to a “kids food guarantee” that would commit them to taking on board its suggested measures as a “minimum”. It said it would be carrying out “spot checks” with consumer body Which? over the next six months to see how retailers responded.

“Most families in the UK rely heavily on the major supermarkets for food, so we’d like to see the retailers stepping up to meaningfully support families with children through the cost of living crisis,” said Food Foundation executive director Anna Taylor.

“The government also has a critical role to play in tackling the cost of living crisis and ensuring everyone can afford and access the food they need. Action is urgently needed in both public policy and business practice to address this crisis.”

Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, added: “These findings echo Which?’s research showing that families – especially single parents – are being hit particularly hard by the cost of living crisis.

“As food prices continue to increase it is crucial that everyone is able to access affordable food that is healthy for themselves and their families.

“Supermarkets must ensure that budget lines for healthy and affordable essential items are widely available across their stores and shoppers can easily compare the price of products to get the best value. Promotions should also be targeted to supporting those most in need.”

Andrew Opie, director of food & sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: “Rising inflation is a significant concern for both consumers and retailers. The war in Ukraine continues to put further pressure on global supply, including wheat and animal feed, as well as energy prices, leading to higher prices for many staples.

”Despite these challenges, retailers are determined to support their customers with the cost of living, such as by expanding value ranges and introducing discounts for vulnerable groups.”