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Critics caution of potential consumer backlash to government’s HFSS stance


The government said its upcoming restrictions on products deemed high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) have been designed to help tackle the soaring obesity rate, especially among children.

NHS Digital data reveals the majority of the British population is overweight, with more than a quarter of adults and one in five children under 11 classed as obese. This is costing the country’s National Health System (NHS) more than £6bn a year.

Announcing the restrictions in July last year, Public Health Minister Jo Churchill said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the impact that an unhealthy weight can have on people’s health. We know families want the healthy choice to be the easy choice, and restricting promotions on unhealthy foods will help them achieve this.”

Public in for ‘a horrible shock’

However, FDF Scotland and SPQR Communications – both panellists on BakeryandSnacks’ healthy snacking webinar next month – believe the regulations will not make a dent on this crisis, and far from being helpful, could actually inflame an already pressurised society.

“While we can’t comment on ongoing legal action, we are disappointed the UK Government is pressing ahead​ with this regulation when it is not expected to impact obesity rates,”​ said FDF Scotland’s spokesperson.

“For years, families have taken advantage of promotions on everyday food and drink such as yoghurts, breakfast cereals and ready meals. They have helped cut the price of shopping bills and encouraged people to try new and different products, many of which have been reformulated to meet government guidance.”

From October, there will be a ban on multibuy promotions such as ‘buy one get one free’ or ‘3 for 2’ offers on HFSS products.

London-based communication and strategy consultancy SPQR Communication has likened the HFSS campaign to the ‘war on smoking’ ​and warns the majority of British adults are opposed to the ‘tobacco-style’ restrictions.

Michael Coppen-Gardner, MD of SPQR Communication, told BakeryandSnacks, “These restrictions might escape public scrutiny, but consumers will get a horrible shock when they wake up one day and find their favourite brands have been ruined by regulation and cost more.

“Unless manufacturers fight back, be it in the courts or out in the public square, it’ll be too late to do anything about it.”

Milking it?

Coppen-Gardner added, “It’s refreshing to see a company take a stand when it thinks the regulatory approach is wrong.”

Earlier this week, Kellogg’s filed a lawsuit against the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care​ for allegedly failing to enter into a ‘reasonable conversation’ to consider the calculations are potentially flawed.

According to the breakfast cereal giant, ‘the addition of milk or yoghurt changes calculations by reducing the proportion of sugar and salt content relative to the weight of the overall serving’. It also contends the public use these dairy additions 92% of the time.

Chris Silcock, MD of Kellogg’s UK, said, “We believe the formula being used by the government to measure the nutritional value of breakfast cereals is wrong and not implemented legally. It measures cereals dry when they are almost always eaten with milk.

“All of this matters because, unless you take account of the nutritional elements added when cereal is eaten with milk, the full nutritional value of the meal is not measured.”

In the hot seat

The pros and cons of the HFSS regulations will be put on the spot during BakeryandSnacks’ healthy snacking webinar on 26 May​.

The free-to-attend event is tapping some of the best minds the sector has to offer to explore exactly what better-for-you (BFY) means – both for people and the planet, including: 

•           Christine Cochran, president and CEO of SNAC International

•           Joanne Burns, Reformation for Health manager, FDF Scotland

•           Michael Coppen-Gardner, MD of digital strategy consultancy SPQR Communications

•           Nick Desai, founder and CEO of PeaTos

Moderated by BakeryandSnacks’ editor Gill Hyslop, some of the topics to be explored include:

•           Will the UK’s HFSS clampdown squelch unhealthy innovation for good?

•           What are the parallels in this approach with the war on smoking?

•           What are the technical realities in producing healthier snacks?

•           Which ingredients, nutrients and claims are expected to become the next big buzzwords?

•           How does conscious consumerism fit into this?

•           How will the trend evolve over the next decade?

•           The panel will also answer burning questions submitted by viewers.

This is one not to be missed and take places on Thursday, 26 May 2022 at 3pm UK/4pm CET/9am CT. If you can’t make the live event, register anyway. The webinar will be made available to registrants after the broadcast date as an on-demand presentation.

Register here for this free event,​ which is sponsored by Cargill and LBB Specialities.

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