In response to a consultation from the Department of Health for a total ban on TV and social media advertising of products high in salt, fat and sugar, the British Sandwich & Food to Go Association has submitted the following response:
Although this consultation states that it is aimed at children, the measures proposed seem to be aimed at all age groups? In the case of sandwich and chilled food-to-go products we are not aware of any advertising specifically aimed at children and, indeed, children form a very small part of the market outside products served in schools and similar establishments.
The proposal to blanket include all products at HFSS that come within the broad categories that fall within the scope of the sugar and calorie reduction programmes takes no account of the breadth of product ranges within these categories. For example, there are many sandwiches that should not be categorised in this way, yet the consultation makes no distinction between products like sandwiches that offer a healthy nutritionally balanced meal vs those that are considered to be high in calories.
Sandwiches are a good example of products that should not be demonised in this way as, compared to many other products classed as HFSS, they do offer consumers a balanced meal and a broad range of choices, many of which fall well outside the scope this consultation. Hence, a blanket ban on advertising across the category is unwarranted.
Although our industry undertakes very little advertising on TV, it does rely on social media as a mechanism for communicating with its markets particularly to keep consumers up-to-date with changing product menus, specials etc. In a sector that is highly competitive and substantially driven by current fashions and trends, the inability to promote ranges is likely to have a huge impact on the sector and particularly on those smaller businesses that are located off the High Street and not visible.
Furthermore, if additional restrictions are introduced based on the January 2019 consultation covering display locations and promotions, this could be hugely damaging to the whole sandwich and chilled food market. The location of sandwich fixtures close to the front of stores is a critical factor for retailers in generating sales in this category and meal deals are a key way for retailers to maximise sales.
Meal deals are designed to encourage consumers to buy everything in one place rather go elsewhere to buy different elements of the meal. They also offer consumers better value for money than if they purchased all the items they want in different locations. Banning meal deals will not prevent consumers buying the same – and possibly less healthy - extras elsewhere. Furthermore, meal deals could be a powerful force in encouraging consumers to purchase healthier choices by packaging up combinations that meet specific nutritional targets.
Small businesses, such as independent sandwich bars and bakers, will be particularly hard hit by bans on social media promotion and their businesses would be significantly undermined by any restrictions on the display of certain HFSS products at counters etc. as these are a fundamental part of their businesses. If they are unable to promote themselves or display products effectively a large number will go out of business especially given the huge damage already done to this sector through the pandemic.
Sandwich bar and bakery chains will be equally damaged and their businesses would be substantially undermined if the rules were applied to them but small sandwich bars and local craft bakeries were exempted as this is a highly competitive market.
A fundamental flaw in the Government’s approach to obesity to date has been the failure to recognise that unless consumers are convinced to change their diets they will simply find ways to buy what they want regardless.
Our Association has long stressed to Public Health England the need for a consistent long term education programme, starting in schools, to help consumers understand the need to manage their diets and to help them understand the very real risks of obesity. This may also require the impact of a campaign along the lines of that for drinking and driving.
Banning advertising and promotions will not change consumer habits.
Furthermore, this draconian approach to dealing with the obesity crisis is unnecessary and excessive as there are measures that could be taken by the digital platforms to control content to groups such as children.
Like others in the food industry, our sector is keen to work with the Government to support a serious drive for change by improving communications on pack regarding diet and health. We recognise that this is necessary but we need consumers to buy into these changes. They cannot be forced on them. As we have seen with the PHE reformulation targets, there is a limit to how far you can go with reducing salt, fat and sugar before consumers stop buying and look for a tastier alternative.
We have submitted proposals to PHE and the Department of Health in the past for prominent calorie labelling on packs so that consumers can make reasoned choices and we are keen to work with the Government to support a drive to healthier diets.
We are extremely concerned that these proposals have been rushed out without sufficient thought given to them and, equally, that insufficient time has been allowed for reasonable consultation, particularly at a time when our industry is struggling with the consequences of the pandemic and Brexit.
A good example of this is the Government’s evidence assessment of the costs of these proposals, which we believe to be a gross under estimate. Although we have had insufficient time to fully calculate the costs to the sandwich and food-to-go sectors, our guestimates suggest that the cost to businesses in these markets will be in excess of 30 times the £27.5 million suggested – which would have a huge impact for the UK economy in terms of business failures and employment.