The industry must fight a Scottish plan to make retailers ‘hide’ confectionery, writes TAN PARSONS
Confectionery could be at the top of a slippery slope towards being regulated in the same way as tobacco and alcohol – that is, if the latest move by the Scottish Government is anything to go by.
Holyrood has unveiled a scheme to tackle obesity, due to be rubber-stamped in the early autumn, that asks retailers to remove all confectionery from points of purchase across the country to reduce the scope for impulse buys.
Simon Hannah, managing director of JW Filshill, says this is another wave of planned legislation hidden under the cloak of a ‘voluntary’ process.
“There is a constant threat to our industry that will put thousands of jobs at risk if we allow everything we sell to be legislated and government agendas be determined by the health lobby.
“Wholesalers and retailers need to close ranks and defend our industry, otherwise we will have a retail environment where everything we sell will be out of sight.”
He said this short-term ‘solution’ will not be as effective as looking at a long-term, sustainable plan to encourage a healthier lifestyle for current and future consumers.
Philip Jenkins, managing director of buying group Sugro, said the onus is on the Prime Minister to give the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills teeth to stop the Department of Health “wiping out” the independent retail industry in the wider UK.
“The Westminster parliament seems to want to follow the Scottish Government like lemmings,” he said.
“In some independent retailers’ shops, more than 50% of turnover is from cigarettes and tobacco. Soft drinks and confectionery are the rest.
“We are supposed to live in a society where freedom of choice is sacrosanct. None of these products is illegal. If a 22-stone person wants to buy a can of Diet Pepsi, why shouldn’t they be allowed to do so?”
There is a growing global movement, spearheaded by scientists such as US child obesity expert Prof Robert Lustig, that is calling for sugar to be regulated like alcohol and tobacco.
Lustig says there needs to be a new business model in which food that contains sugar is harder to get and less affordable, and healthier foods are subsidised to make them more affordable, all while retaining profits for the food industry.
It is not just the wholesale channel that is beginning to be affected by concerns about sugary food and drink. Earlier this year, Tesco announced it was monitoring the shopping habits of customers, to see who was buying calorific foods like chocolate and pizzas and suggest healthier options instead. The company says it wants to play its part in tackling obesity.
John Drummond, chief executive of the Scottish Grocers’ Federation (SGF), says it is a dangerous precedent for any government to start interfering with how retailers lay out their shops. He believes it is more important for independents to play a role with initiatives like the SGF’s Healthy Living programme, which is designed to get people eating more fruit and veg.
He said: “In a small store, there’s very little room to rearrange the set-up anyway. I firmly believe the job of the retailer is to offer the consumer choice. The job of the government is to educate people to make an informed choice.”