Volume promotions and free refills of sugary drinks are to be banned in England under new government measures to tackle obesity.
New laws due to come into effect in April 2022 will prohibit retailers from offering multi-buy promotions such as ‘buy one get one free’ or ‘3 for 2’ offers on unhealthy food products.
Unhealthy promotions will also no longer be featured in key locations, such as at checkouts, store entrances and aisle ends in stores over 2,000 square feet and their online equivalents. The government said such deals encouraged people to buy more than they need or intended to buy in the first place.
Free refills of sugary soft drinks will also be banned in the out-of-home sector.
The announcement, made in the period between Christmas and New Year, drew fierce criticism from industry bodies. The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) described the decision to issue a technical consultation at a time when businesses are focused on the dual challenges of responding to the coronavirus pandemic and transitioning to new EU trading arrangements as “breath-taking and insulting”.
The Department of Health and Social Care originally consulted on plans to restrict promotions of food and drink that is high in fat, sugar and salt back in 2019 and stated its intention to legislate in its subsequent response.
“We know families want to be presented with healthier choices. This is why we are restricting promotions and introducing a range of measures to make sure the healthy choice is the easy choice,” said public health minister Jo Churchill. “Creating an environment which helps everyone eat healthier foods more regularly is crucial to improving the health of the nation.”
FDF chief operating officer, Tim Rycroft, said that while manufacturers recognised that multi-buy deals and placement of food and drinks at checkouts were best focused on healthier options “other areas in store should not be restricted by such bans”.
He also expressed concern that the proposals risked hindering progress with voluntary reformulation if they were to prevent manufacturers from promoting reformulated, healthier options to shoppers.