Around a third of supermarket volume promotions or multi-buy offers are on unhealthy foods with less than 4% on fruit and vegetables.
Research from The Food Foundation found that foods high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) account for a significant proportion of promotions such as buy-one-get-one-free (BOGOF) deals available in the UK’s five largest supermarkets.
The data collected in April showed that almost a third of volume deals (29%) were on HFSS products compared with just 3% on staple carbohydrates, 3.8% on fruit and vegetables and 1% on milk.
Volume promotions were found at three retailers – Asda, Morrisons and Tesco – but not at Sainsbury’s or Aldi, which instead run price reduction promotions.
The research comes in the wake of a decision by the UK government to delay a proposed ban on volume promotions until October 2025 arguing that families would need access to these price reductions during the cost of living crisis. The government’s own evidence, however, has found that such promotions actually increase consumer spending by encouraging people to buy more than they intended to in the first place – around 20% more compared with the 16% they can expect to save over buying the same items at full price.
Sainsbury’s has already phased out multi-buy offers voluntarily and Tesco has committed to follow suit. The Food Foundation said other retailers ought to follow Sainsbury’s lead and called on Tesco to implement its own commitment swiftly.
The charity also called on ministers to reconsider the delay of the planned ban on HFSS promotions. It argued it would not be possible for the government to meet its goal of halving childhood obesity by 2030 unless urgent action is taken to rebalance the food environment.
"Levels of food insecurity remain worryingly high, with 17% of households experiencing food insecurity in June 2023,” said Anna Taylor, executive director of The Food Foundation. “This is over twice as high as levels in January 2022. With food price inflation falling only very slowly, we need both government and retailers to urgently step up and support households through the cost of living crisis.”
Taylor added that support needed to make sure that families are able to access and afford healthy staples such as fruit and vegetables. "Running promotional deals on junk food simply makes it even harder for many to access and afford nutritious food," she said.