Promotions on the rocks

Restrictions abound in ScotGov’s latest paper on tackling obesity

Boxes of confectionery

RETAILERS have been given some much-needed new details about the Scottish Government’s proposals to restrict the sale of unhealthy food.

It has released a new consultation paper that offers the public the chance to respond to its suggested plans by 9 January 2019.

The paper reveals greater detail about the restrictions proposed on food high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS), including that it will be local authorities who are likely to be tasked with ensuring the regulations are implemented.

As part of proposals, the Scottish Government said it is considering giving local authorities the power to issue compliance and fixed penalty notices to businesses that do not comply with the restrictions.

These restrictions will affect what are described as ‘discretionary foods’, defined as HFSS products that provide little or no nutritional benefit and are therefore ‘optional’ to our diets.

The consultation paper suggests these “frequently consumed” discretionary products should include confectionery, sweet biscuits, crisps, savoury snacks (including prawn crackers and wheat snacks), cakes, pastries, puddings, and soft drinks with added sugar.

On publication of the consultation there was an initial outcry that restrictions on ‘purchase rewards’ for these discretionary products would restrict takeaways from giving out free prawn crackers, but the Scottish Government has since confirmed the measures would only affect snacks and not main meals.

The government said that it will seek “expert, technical advice” on defining the category definitions and whether or not ice cream and dairy desserts should be considered as discretionary products.

According to the consultation paper, these discretionary foods have a significant impact on our diet, providing 20% of calories, 20% of fats, and 50% of sugar.

As a result, the paper suggests that “changing the environment in which people buy and eat food is likely to be more effective than measures to influence individual behaviour change, because it applies across the whole population.”

In a change from the previous consultation, the proposals no longer involve restricting price reductions but they do prohibit the “promotion of value.”

This includes restricting where products can be placed within store: with discretionary products not allowed at checkouts, end-of-aisles, the front of a store, or on islands and in bins.

In-store advertising, upselling, free samples and shelf-edge displays of affected products could also be forbidden and retailers may not include these products in coupons.

With food to go an area that many retailers have placed significant investment into in recent years, it may come as a blow that the proposed plans also forbid the inclusion of chocolate and crisps into meal-deal offers.

For retailers who have invested in loyalty schemes, they may also be disappointed to learn that under the new measures discretionary products cannot be used in coupons and purchase rewards.

The paper stresses that the new proposals do not restrict multipacks – a concern some retailers had expressed at Scottish Grocer’s recent Convenience Conversation event in Dundee – but it does restrict multibuys and “sales of unlimited amounts for a fixed charge.”

Multipacks could, however, still be banned if they fall under the category of “promoting value”, which includes “promotion of size” and any labelling that indicates “above average” sized products.

The proposals also set out that labelling wouldn’t be allowed to include phrases like “2 extra items in pack” or “10% extra free,” which would affect multipacks and their manufacturers.

The paper also suggests that multipacks could be targeted further down the line, saying that if the restriction of multi-buys leads to “more multipacks or super-sized products” then “restricting multipacks may be necessary if this were to occur. The retail purchase of multipacks would therefore be closely tracked.”

There is no explicit mention of larger format confectionery packs in the paper, although the government has indicated that any legislation would “complement measures at a UK-level to encourage reformulation to reduce the calorie and sugar content of HFSS foods, including by reducing portion sizes.”

Despite their perceived value to the consumer, PMPs are not subject to ‘promotion of value’ restrictions because the government said they were “minded at this time not to treat price-marked packs as intrinsically promotional.”

The restrictions will also not initially affect online retailers, but the paper states that the government will “explore the potential for extending proposed measures to the online space”.

For retailers struggling to imagine how the measures will be implemented in store the Scottish Government has allowed for potential exemptions where “there is no reasonable alternative to displaying foods elsewhere.”

They also propose that foods marked as discounted because they are close to expiry could be exempt from the restrictions to help prevent food waste.

The Scottish Government also noted that in response to its initial consultation, public health bodies generally supported the measures but private sector and business respondents “raised concerns or identified negative consequences”, including the “further burden” on businesses and products already affected by the sugar tax.