Crunch time for crisps as healthy lifestyles hit sales

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Indy Lifestyle Online

The first evidence that consumers may be listening to warnings about the nation's ever-expanding waistbands was released yesterday in the shape of a sharp drop in sales of crisps and salted nuts.

The first evidence that consumers may be listening to warnings about the nation's ever-expanding waistbands was released yesterday in the shape of a sharp drop in sales of crisps and salted nuts.

Figures produced by independent analysts showed a fall of nearly 11 per cent in sales of salty snacks in small packets, from £318m in the year to February 2003 to £283m last year. The survey of the "impulse" snack market - single items bought usually for immediate consumption - also recorded a drop in sales in chocolate bars by 1.2 per cent to £708m. Sugar-based sweets, such as fruit gums, also fell by 5 per cent to £145m.

The study comes after repeated warnings from health experts and the Government that the nation faces an epidemic of obesity fuelled by over-consumption of fatty foods and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Male obesity has risen by 75 per cent in the past decade while the number of women defined as grossly overweight has gone up by 45 per cent.

Ministers are considering an advertising ban on junk food aimed at children and want to see a new labelling regime to identify high levels of salt, sugar and fat in processed food.

According to the research, conducted by the market analyst TNS, the UK snacks market overall fell by 2.2 per cent from £2.14bn to £2.1bn. The only sectors to show increases were fizzy drinks, up 0.3 per cent to £809m, and chewing gum, up 0.6 per cent to £156 million.

The trade magazine The Grocer, which published the figures, gave credence to the notion of a successful PR campaign by blaming "scare tactics" for the dip in sales. It said: "Obesity has been one of the hottest media issues of the past year and it appears that the acres of newsprint covering government scare tactics to shock the nation into slimming may finally be taking its toll."

TNS said another explanation for the drop in sales of single packets could be a shift towards the sale of multi-packs driven by fierce price competition between supermarkets.

Food manufacturers, who held a recent "fat summit" with ministers to discuss making processed food healthier, insisted that the snacks market was not the key to tackling obesity. Chris Morgan, at Cadbury Trebor Bassett, said: "Confectionery accounts for no more than 2 per cent of anyone's diet. The thing that drives obesity is lifestyle and it's wrong to demonise confectionery."

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