Food firms can't be expected to curb sales

By Clare Cheney

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

Clare Cheney, director general, Provision Trade Federation
Clare Cheney, director general, Provision Trade Federation
Food promotion has been described by the Department of Health (DH) as the final priority area for the Public Health Responsibility Deal Food Network. Bluntly, it is all about how manufacturers and retailers can be persuaded not to promote their products to consumers. But, obviously, that is not how it is described by the DH.

Instead, a paper on the DH website talks about ‘action to improve the nutritional content of consumers’ food baskets by altering the environment they shop in and the offers and promotions that they are exposed to’.

Well, short of removing sweets from check-outs, what else can reasonably be expected of the food industry whose business is to make a profit and prosper, which by definition requires as many people as possible to buy their products? So many of these are iconic brands that have been around for years.

Got it all wrong

The DH has got it all wrong. It should be the other way round. Rather than expecting the food industry to fix it so that consumers are directed to or from different foods, consumers need to decide to change their diets for themselves.

This might well involve buying less of the foods that the DH has on its hidden check-list. This in turn will prompt changes in the types of food offered over time.

Attempts to manipulate diets by making certain types of food less accessible will not work largely because consumers will not play ball unless they understand what constitutes a healthy diet. Even if they buy fewer fatty and sugary foods, say, their diets may still be unhealthy if they overeat other items such as bread in order to compensate and don’t buy enough fruit and veg.

Deirdre Hutton, when she was chair of the Food Standards Agency, was reputed to have said that flapjacks should be banned. Well, the mentality behind this objective of ‘altering the environment’ is the next best, or worst, thing to hers because, instead of a ban, the DH is trying to make less accessible the foods they don't want people to eat. But if they succeed it does not necessarily mean that shoppers will fill baskets with foods that constitute a healthy diet overall.


It would be interesting to know whether removal of sweets from checkouts has affected sales. It certainly won’t have led to an increase in broccoli consumption.

The DH paper hits the nail on the head in saying that ‘it will be difficult to identify one set of actions that will form the basis of a collective effort that will take us significantly forward in this area’. Of course, it will be difficult, because whatever the DH sees as moving forward will be moving backward for the industry.

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