As a leading food company, Dairy Crest believes strongly that we must act responsibly towards our consumers and act within Government guidelines.
It is just common sense. The growth of obesity is becoming a real danger, not only to our nation's wealth but more importantly its health. Along with the environment, it is one of the major challenges facing all of us in the food industry. The increase in our collective waistline has continued despite the nation's calorie intake per person decreasing for the past decade, as our increasingly sedentary lifestyles have taken their toll.
In order to combat this bulge, a war has been declared on junk food. This is all well and good. But - and there is a big but - the first victim of war in this case is not truth but common sense. A raft of nutritious wholesome foods that have been eaten for generations, as highlighted by The Grocer's Weigh It Up! campaign, are potentially being labelled 'junk'. There is one constituency where common sense still prevails and that is the public.
But before talking about the consumer, I feel I must declare an interest. I am very concerned about cheese, of course. I am concerned it is being labelled junk by its association with Ofcom's ad ban to children, which is based on a 100g model - a portion more than three times the real average daily portion eaten.
Dairy Crest has never advertised cheese to children. But labels stick and a food that is wholesome, unprocessed, nutrient-dense and a superb source of calcium with loads of micronutrients is now potentially grouped in our collective conscience as 'bad for you'. This will affect our nation's health.
The FSA itself produced a report in 2000 showing a growing number of children deficient in calcium, essential for the development of proper bone density and the prevention of osteoporosis in later life. In fact the average amount of cheese eaten by children per portion is just 15g, and 20% do not eat it. Those who do eat it regularly are among the least obese.
I am worried that we are indeed witnessing the "thin end of the wedge". Our sedentary lives will not change that much over the next few years - despite congestion-charging - and this will more than likely ensure this ban will have a minimal effect on obesity. What new front will be opened in this battle? No promotions, price reductions or even in-store tasting, as we cannot trust the consumer to take a common sense approach? This will simply add to consumer confusion. But let us go back to consumers. What do they think?
Well, there is good news for the government with 88% of consumers aware of the ban, according to a survey conducted by the British Cheese Board. More importantly 82% (and 84% of mothers with young children) were in agreement with the sentiment of the junk food ban. But when it gets to what should be banned, what makes sense to the public changes. Not one single mother in the 200 asked thought dried fruit should be banned and fewer than 2% thought Cheddar should be.
To the public this is common sense. What is not is demonising good foods, enforcing a distinction between good and bad, when what is at the root cause of this obesity debate is good and bad habits. The public sees the collateral damage of this battle as nonsense.
I would therefore urge everyone in the industry, not just those directly affected by the ban, to support The Grocer in its campaign.