SG opinion: Will obesity plans affect business?

FDF’s David Thomson offers his assessment

Shop shelf
The Scottish Government is considering banning a variety of promotions
by David Thomson, chief executive of Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Scotland.

A New Year means new year’s resolutions – often health-related – exercising more and eating more healthily. The Scottish Government’s resolution has been a bit bigger to make all of Scotland healthier. And this will have implications for manufacturers and retailers.

At the end of January, the Scottish Government’s Diet and Obesity Strategy consultation closed. This set out what the government wants to do to improve the health of the nation – and asked for views on how to do it.

Obesity is a complex challenge to which there is no single solution, so I am pleased that the consultation recognises that only a holistic approach will have any chance of success.

That said, we do have concerns, so FDF Scotland’s response to the consultation was shaped by the views of our food and drink manufacturing members. Many others will have responded to the consultation. I don’t envy the officials who will be sifting through these responses.

For retailers the two main elements that will impact your business are promotions and labelling. The Scottish Government has said it will limit promotions within retail premises in Scotland, and the Scottish Parliament has the relevant powers.

We do not believe there should be limits on the promotions of food and drink. However, if the Scottish Government did seek to impose these, they need to engage with industry to develop the best way of doing this. Any method needs to be simple for businesses of all sizes to implement and use information that is easily accessible to all – including retailers and caterers. Similar proposed restrictions on advertising may even dictate what can be advertised in or on store, especially near schools.

The Scottish Government says that they will explore how they can ‘strengthen the current labelling’ on pre-packed food and drink to ‘improve the way in which we communicate important information to families’. We need clarity on what this would mean. But can you imagine having different labelling requirements for food and drink products sold in Scotland than in England, Wales or Northern Ireland?

For retailers the two main elements that will impact your business are promotions and labelling.

The need for Scottish-specific packaging would be more expensive – smaller runs of packaging have a higher unit cost. And company productivity would reduce if lines had to be reset to run market-specific packaging. It would also limit the ability for food and drink companies and retailers to backfill orders for different locations, making the supply chain more difficult and costly to operate.

Of course, any measures that require a change in legislation such as restricting promotions in store or changing labelling requirements would need to be passed by the Scottish Parliament.

These are new areas for debate, and it is my job to ensure that the views of food and drink manufacturers are an essential part of this conversation. While we may disagree with the Scottish Government on some of the actions it intends to take, there is a lot to be done to tackle obesity, and the food and drink industry is playing its part. We need to see bold and effective action across all the areas the consultation covers to ensure success.

FDF Scotland will continue to work with the Scottish Government, Food Standards Scotland and industry partners from across the food supply chain to help make a real difference to Scotland’s health. I look forward to hearing your views over the coming months, please get in touch if you wish to discuss.