Ask FWD: The government’s obesity strategy

As the focus on the nation’s waistlines intensifies, FWD looks at what this could mean for wholesalers’ product ranges and how they’re helping

So the government’s coming for our snacks and treats?

As the prime minister knows from his own experience, living with excess weight puts people at greater risk of serious illness or death from Covid-19. Perhaps that’s why he is so keen to improve the nation’s diet and health and reduce the burden on the NHS. Around two thirds of adults are above a healthy weight and one in three children leaving primary school are already overweight. 

So what’s the plan?

As well as encouraging us all to move around a bit more, the aim is to target high-fat, salt and sugar products, and how they are sold and promoted, especially to children. That might mean an end to volume promotions such as buy one get one free, a review of front-of pack nutritional information and advertising bans. Of most concern to our sector is proposed restrictions on the placement of these foods in prominent locations, both online and in physical stores.

Isn’t that an issue for smaller stores?

Yes, banning these products from store entrances, checkouts and aisle ends would place a hugely disproportionate burden on the average local independent, if the rule were to apply to them. 

How about in foodservice?

New laws will require large restaurants, cafes and takeaways with more than 250 employees to add calorie labels to the food they sell. Smaller businesses will be encouraged to voluntarily provide calorie information and the government says it will consider extending the requirement to include them in the future. That’s a big ask for smaller operators. However, FWD is already talking to government about a central mandatory allergens database for suppliers, where wholesalers can access data on behalf of their customers and it’s possible that could be extended to include other product information, including calories.

And on-trade?

A new consultation will be launched this year on plans to provide calorie labelling on alcohol. Alcohol consumption has been estimated to account for nearly 10% of the calorie intake of those who drink. 

So what is FWD’s position?

We will support the aim of the legislation but represent the interest of wholesalers in drafting the detail. Restrictions have to be effective, but they also have to be achievable in all settings, so it’s our role to make sure the wholesale sector isn’t overlooked or disadvantaged. We will also work with suppliers to see how we can prevent price rises, added administration or reduced sales. The soft drinks levy, which encouraged manufacturers to reformulate rather than face disincentives to purchase, could be a template for other categories.

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