While the government's new obesity strategy appears to be broadly good news for the fresh produce sector, it has not gone down well with food manufacturers.
The Food & Drink Federation slammed the announcement as a "missed opportunity" that was bad news for consumers, didn't go far enough to encourage fruit and vegetable consumption and wouldn't address the real problem anyway.
Tim Rycroft, chief operating officer at the FDF, said: “The UK’s food and drink manufacturers and the half a million people we employ – so recently the heroes heralded by government for feeding the nation during the Covid crisis – will be reeling today from this punishing blow.
“As the economy struggles to recover, new restrictions on promoting and advertising everyday food and drink will increase the price of food, reduce consumer choice and threaten jobs across the UK. And all to save 17 calories a day."
Rycroft said that while the promotion of physical activity was welcome, the new package was "a terrible missed opportunity". "After months in which people have thought more about diet and exercise, we could have embarked on a bold programme to promote healthier lifestyles and better diet choices – encouraging consumption of fibre, fruit and vegetables. Instead, at the heart of this programme are old and discredited policies that will raise prices, limit choice and hit two of the UK’s most successful industries."
Rycroft described the proposed promotions ban at such a precarious economic time as "extraordinary", citing the Scottish government's decision to reverse its own decision to press ahead with restrictions.
He also insisted that there was limited evidence the measures would effectively tackle obesity, pointing to the government's own figures suggesting that proposed bans on advertising and promotions combined would only reduce children’s average calorie consumption by 17 calories per day.
“For more than a decade, our industry has worked willingly with successive governments to reduce salt, fat and sugars," he continued. "Government is right in its renewed ambition for a healthier, more active population, but it is also time it put real money behind specific, targeted measures to help those most afflicted by obesity, rather than relying on headline-chasing measures."
And the FDF believes that consumers will suffer to the tune of £600 a year per family if price promotions are banned, while manufacturers will see little point in introducing lower-sugar or lower-calories variants of their products into a market in which it will not be possible to advertise or promote them to shoppers.