FSS puts retailers in regulation spotlight

SCOTLAND’S stores should be transformed to drive customers towards healthier produce, according to academics at the Unviersity of Stirling, who have made a list of regulatory suggestions that could see retailers faced with significant changes to their operations.

University of Stirling professor of retail studies Leigh Sparks co-authored the health-focused study.

The recommendations put forward include: extending the levy on high-sugar soft drinks to include other categories such as products high in salt, sugar, and saturated fats; introducing restrictions on promotions similar to existing legislation on irresponsible alcohol promotions; regulating the placement of ‘unhealthy’ products in store; restricting products that can be placed in impulse positions; limiting retailers’ ability to run loyalty schemes involving ‘unhealthy’ products; banning or regulating the flyers which stores can distribute.

The latest recommendations emerged in a study commissioned by Food Standards Scotland (FSS) and co-authored by Leigh Sparks, professor of retail studies, and Steve Burt, professor of retail marketing, which looked at how changes in retail practice could improve the Scottish diet.

In the report, Sparks and Burt set out over a dozen policies with obesity-tackling potential, although the report authors note that many of the issues raised would be a “very difficult ask” for retailers and suggest it would be crucial to implement similar measures across other sectors rather than singling retailers out.
Dennis Williams, president of the Scottish Grocers Federation, said he did not believe more legislation for retailers is the way forward.

“I think, have we not had enough?” he said.
“Down the last five years what have we had put on our plates? There have been different laws for licensing, cigarettes, the sugar tax, auto-enrolment pensions, business rates revaluations, and the living wage. We’ve had to cope with all that and police it as well.

“Some of the things suggested, I think people need to better understand the practical aspects.”
Professor Leigh Sparks commented: “The environment confronting consumers is not a neutral one, allowing ‘free choice’. Promotions and product information, especially, shape consumers’ choices and behaviours. Retailing is both part of the problem, but could be a major part of the solution.

“Voluntary initiatives and ‘simple’ healthy promotion have failed: the time to consider a range of actions to alter the architecture of in-store choice may now be upon us.”
FSS senior dietary advisor Dr Gillian Purdon said the organisation welcomed the University of Stirling report.

“The report supports FSS views and recommendations for the need to extend the sugar tax beyond soft drinks, to reformulate products to reduce sugar, fat and salt, to resize portions, address less healthy food promotion and to provide clearer consumer information on products in both the retail and out of home sectors,” she said.