Last week the Queen’s Speech to Parliament confirmed the Government’s plans to press ahead with its ban on HFSS products on TV before 9pm and online at any time. With the revelation too that more than one million Brits received obesity-related treatment in hospital last year, I agree we have an issue that needs to be resolved.
However, putting aside the fact that this forthcoming legislation flies in the face of much of the feedback from the consultation (launched towards the end of last year), and that no one can quite define how these products will be categorised – most likely using the traffic light labelling system, but how many reds/ambers/greens will be used to make the selection is still to be confirmed, is this ban the right approach?
I’ve worked in the food and drink sector for a number of years and during that time have helped clients shape and launch various initiatives to enable consumers to enjoy a range of products responsibly. Whether it’s product reformulations, changing pack sizes, introducing clearer labelling or driving stakeholder engagement programmes, the industry and its marketeers know they have a role to play in helping consumers achieve a balance in their diets.
And balance is the key word. There are no ‘good’ foods or ‘bad’ ones (I know this isn’t news), but when a salmon fillet is likely to end up on the ‘bad’ list due to its fat content, or avocados are similarly ‘banned’, off-limits in terms of advertising, regardless of their wider health benefits, something is a little off-kilter.
It really feels like this is a box-ticking exercise, absolving the government of actually doing something to help tackle the actual problem – treating the symptoms rather than addressing the cause.
Supermarkets today offer fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and alternatives at pretty decent prices in the main (The Co-op has even cut the prices on its own label plant-based products to help give shoppers more choice for their budget), so the argument that it’s cheaper to eat unhealthy, processed foods feels a bit weak these days. However, even once you’ve shopped from a list of ‘good’ foods and brought the basic ingredients home from the supermarket, it’s all too easy to think ‘what the hell do I do with this lot now?’.
Surely a bigger or smarter win, rather than blanket bans or sweeping generalisations (or even product reformulations), would be to help consumers understand nutrition a little better and, crucially, how to achieve nutritional balance from the food available to them.
Our opportunity to help support balanced nutritional decisions and a healthy relationship with all foods starts well before the 9pm watershed.
What if we had more investment in engaging schools’ programmes and hands-on learning about food and ingredients and fewer misleading social media posts by well-meaning yet ill-informed influencers? This is where food growers, producers and retailers can really step up and make a difference with their marketing and communications activity. Then there might be less need for that sledgehammer.