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Food: Two-For-One Offers

Volume 831: debated on Wednesday 19 July 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government on the basis of what health evidence, if any, they have postponed the planned ban on two-for-one offers for foods high in fat, salt and sugar.

The volume price promotion restrictions have been delayed for two years while we prioritise the implementation of the location restrictions. This is the most impactful policy for reducing children’s calorie consumption, and accounts for 96% of the expected health benefits of the promotions policy. Kantar data suggests that it is working. The evidence suggests that this will have the biggest impact on tackling obesity.

I thank the Minister for his reply, but according to the Food Foundation’s most recent Broken Plate report, the most deprived 20% of families would have to spend half of their disposable income on food to comply with the Government’s healthy diet advice. Bearing that in mind, why are the Government continuing to allow retailers to sell HFSS foods, which can make people ill, at a discount? Do the government really want to encourage people to buy cheap food that could, in the end, kill them?

First, I thank the noble Baroness for her tireless work in this space. I think we have shown that our restrictions are absolutely placed to inform and educate people so that they can have a healthy diet. I mentioned what we have done on location—the so-called pester power avoidance. It is estimated that these measures will reduce calorific intake by 96%. That is the prize that we are looking at here.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the Secretary of State for Health actually believes in public health policy, because his recent speech at the Centre for Policy Studies—I watched all of it—indicates he does not?

He definitely does. He was very much behind these measures. Just look at what we are doing in the smoking space, through the swapping out of cigarettes for vapes—another example of where we are taking action. As I mentioned, the evidence from Kantar suggests that it is working.

My Lords, if a product is marketed legally in the United Kingdom, why should His Majesty’s Government feel they have to interfere at all with the marketing of that product? I understand the point about education and totally accept it, but is it not wrong for His Majesty’s Government to restrict what is a legally marketed product?

We are trying to educate, inform and nudge. The best example of all is encouraging the industry to reformulate its foods to be healthier. At this point, I am glad to say that, since we introduced these restrictions, Mars, Galaxy, Bounty and Snickers have reformulated, and even Mr Kipling’s Deliciously Good cakes are compliant.

My Lords, next week it will be three years since the Government committed to legislate to end the promotion of high-fat, salt and sugar foods by volume. Would a reasonable person think that this commitment has been met when the legislation has been passed but not implemented, and will not be for another couple of years?

As I mentioned, the key is giving industry time to adjust so that it can reformulate. We would all agree that, if you can get the same taste but it is a lot healthier, with less fat, salt and sugar, that must be a good outcome. The examples that I just gave show that, and it is working.

The NHS Food Scanner is promoting to children a number of ultra-processed food items. Do the Government not think that this is quite perverse given the new knowledge about what exactly ultra-processed food means? It is not just about the sugars, salts and fat but about the chemical destruction and reformulation of foodstuffs into something else.

As I mentioned in answer to a Question on ultra-processed food yesterday, as a definition that is not particularly helpful because wholemeal bread, baked beans and cereals are all examples of ultra-processed food. The real point is the content of the food, and that is what our regulations should look to.

My Lords, when the anti-obesity strategy was published, this ban was said to be supporting food affordability, citing evidence that multi-buy offers such as “buy one, get one free” increase the amount that people spend on foods by around 20% but often on foods high in fat, sugar and salt. With the Government now making the opposite argument to support this postponement, do they no longer stand by the evidence? Would a ban on these deals make it easier or harder for those who are struggling to get by?

As we have mentioned before, our general direction of travel is to educate, reformulate and give people the best chances through having choices, and a good start in life through the fresh fruit and vegetables that we have in schools. Those are the things that will really make the difference.

Does my noble friend the Minister recall, on that exact point about access to fresh fruit and vegetables, the very successful scheme that we pioneered about 12 years ago with the Association of Convenience Stores so that corner shops would carry fresh fruit and vegetables close to the till and make them accessible, with us carrying the risk of wastage? That led to a significant increase in corner shops selling fresh fruit and vegetables.

To me, that is a great example of how working in co-operation to allow people to make the right choices is the best way. For instance, 78% of shoppers have said that they are in favour of not having unhealthy items at the till because they know that they give in to pester power. That is why this has been focus of what we have done.

My Lords, notwithstanding the interesting “legal but harmful” point made by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, I think that most of the House would agree that reducing high-fat, sugar and salt content is a good idea. However, the Minister has at least twice mentioned reduction of calories. Does he acknowledge and recognise that while one way to address obesity is calorie reduction, it is not an appropriate message for everybody and it certainly is not the sole cause of obesity across this country?

The noble Baroness is correct; this is a complicated area, and a number of measures need to be taken. The best thing is the promotion of healthy foods, and the fresh fruit and veg initiatives that we have talked about today are perfect examples of that.

My Lords, some years ago, the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly looked at obesity in children, during the course of which we went to Amsterdam to look at what was going on there. Two of the things that were very enlightening were educating children in schools and educating pregnant mothers. What about that?

I am aware of the Amsterdam initiative. Off the back of that, the OECD said that there were four main strands to what countries should be doing: first, information and education, such as the good examples I spoke about; secondly, increasing healthy choices through the reformulation of foods, which again is something we are doing; thirdly, the modifying of costs—the sugar tax, which has reduced sugar consumption by as much as 40%, is a perfect example of that; and, fourthly, restrictions on where product placement should take place. I am absolutely familiar with the initiative in Amsterdam, and am pleased to see that we have taken action on a lot of those things.

Is the Minister not ashamed about what has happened to children’s health while the Conservatives have been in power since 2010? We have more obese children than ever before, and a plethora of policies which would work if implemented, yet so many are delayed. Will the Minister give a commitment to go back and look at the regulations governing children’s school meals? They were changed in 2014, with permission granted to give children more sugar. The Government were reviewing this in 2019 and 2020, but that stopped because of Covid. Will the Minister give a commitment again to start a review? Even if they cannot implement it, the next Government could.

The noble Lord is correct: good school meals are fundamental to all of this. My understanding is that the review is something that the Government are looking to do, but I will happily provide more details on what the plan is.

My Lords, can I just test with the Minister whether there is still a commitment to the policy of banning two-for-one promotions? If there is, is there an effective deal going on with the food producers that they will change certain processes if this ban continues to be pushed backwards and effectively talked out of effect?

There is absolutely the commitment for October 2025. The tactic behind that is to give industry the time to make its food healthier. That is exactly what it is doing in the examples I mentioned, including the Deliciously Good cakes. It is good to see industry respond in that way.