How the government’s new anti-obesity measures will change supermarket shopping

Multi-buy offers on chocolate and sweets will be restricted in supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s from April 2022 

Emily Cope
Wednesday 30 December 2020 14:18 GMT
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The government is to introduce new rules on selling junk food in supermarkets as part of a plan to tackle Britain’s obesity crisis.

In a plan shared this week, the Department of Health and Social Care said that from April 2022 offers and promotions on foods that are deemed “unhealthy” – such as cakes, crisps, soft drinks, pizza and ready meals – will be restricted across stores such as Tesco, Waitrose, Asda and Sainsbury’s.

The announcement will only affect “medium and large” businesses employing more than 50 people and stores larger than 2,000 square feet, so smaller shops like newsagents should not be impacted by the required changes.

But it is still likely to have a noticeable impact on the way you shop for food.

The announcement comes as a Public Health England study discovered that being classed as medically obese increased the risk of death from coronavirus by 40 per cent.

In July Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to reduce obesity levels in the UK after he claimed his personal battle with coronavirus was exacerbated by the fact he was overweight. He was treated in intensive care before being discharged.

Almost two thirds of adults in England are currently overweight, with obesity-related illnesses such as cancer and heart disease costing the NHS £6 billion a year.

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Health campaigners across the board have heralded the new government guidelines as a  “huge step in the right direction".

Obesity Health Alliance lead Caroline Cerny added: "Taking the spotlight off junk food means the only buy one get one free offers we see will be on healthier foods.

“Retailers won’t be able to tempt us to impulsively buy tins of sweets in supermarket entrances or chocolate bars in clothes shops.”

The items included will include everything from soft drinks to cakes, chocolate confectionery, sugar confectionery, ice cream, morning goods (for example, pastries), puddings, sweet biscuits, breakfast cereals, yogurts, milk-based drinks with added sugar, juice-based drinks with added sugar, pizza, ready meals, breaded and battered products, crisps and savoury snacks, chips and similar potato products.

With an eight-week consultation of the plans launched this week, how will the new rules affect supermarkets?

The end of BOGOF deals or ‘3 for 2’

The new legislation restricts the promotion of any foods classified as high in fat, sugar or salt.

Classifications are based on existing guidelines, but this means the end of ‘buy one get one free’ and ‘3 for 2’ offers on products such as sweets, juice drinks, cakes, biscuits, pizza and ready meals.

The government says: “Promotions often appear to help shoppers save money. However, data shows that these deals actually increase purchases of promoted products by almost 20 per cent. They encourage people to buy more than they need or intended to buy in the first place.”

Shops will also be encouraged to offer more discounts on healthier food like fruit and vegetables, while a government study is set to look at the current ‘traffic light’ labelling system on food to see if it could be more effective.

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Junk food banned from checkouts

A ban on any unhealthy items being placed in prominent locations in stores will also come into force next April.

This will see the end of chocolate and sweets on offer at any sales-boosting locations, such as store entrances, checkouts and the end of aisles.

The government says: “Unhealthy promotions will also no longer be featured in key locations, such as at checkouts, store entrances, aisle ends and their online equivalents.”

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Similar rules will apply to websites, banning sales links to unhealthy foods on homepages, landing pages or at online checkouts.

This is a huge move by the government, given that around 43 per cent of all food and drink products located in prominent areas are for sugary foods and drinks, compared to just 1 per cent for healthy items.  

The government argues that rather than saving people money, promotions on unhealthy items tend to mean people simply buy more, while the removal of junk foods from prominent locations also aims to tackle ‘pester power’ from children.

Calorie displays on alcohol products

A consultation is planned to look into providing calorie labelling on alcohol, including beer, wine and spirits.

Alcohol can be incredibly high in calories - there 210 calories in a pint of Guinness and more than 2,000 calories in a bottle of whisky - and it is estimated that alcohol accounts for nearly ten per cent of the calorie intake of those who drink.

The new plans aim to make people more aware of the ‘liquid calories’ they are consuming, with a recent study by researchers at Harvard University discovering that labelling food items with calorie information can lead to a reduction in the amount customers purchase. 

No more free refills 

The government says: “Free refills of sugary soft drinks will also be prohibited in the eating-out sector.”

This is expected to include unlimited offers of soft drinks alongside meals.

Public Health Minister Jo Churchill said: “We know families want to be presented with healthier choices. This is why we are restricting promotions and introducing a range of measures to make sure the healthy choice is the easy choice.”

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