From April, UK grocers will be banned from putting foods high in fat, salt and sugar on multi-buy promotions, the country’s government has confirmed.

The move, put forward by the Government last summer, will prohibit promotions such as ‘buy one, get one free’ or ‘3 for 2’.

Under the new rules, retailers will also no longer be able to put “unhealthy promotions” in prominent locations such as checkouts and store entrances. The curbs would also cover online, including on the homepage and checkout pages of websites.

In 2018, under then Prime Minister Theresa May, the UK announced a fresh push to try to tackle rising obesity levels among children in the country.

The UK government set out a series of proposed measures, which were open for consultation by the end of 2018, including banning the sale of sweets and snacks at checkouts, fresh restrictions on advertising unhealthy food to children on TV and online, and clear calorie labelling in foodservice outlets. At the time, UK food manufacturers expressed “deep disquiet” at those plans.

These proposals were the subject of consultations completed in April and June 2019 but with no action taken by current Prime Minister Boris Johnson – historically sceptical about government intervention in efforts to curb obesity – in his early months in Number 10.

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By GlobalData

In July, weeks after recovering from Covid-19, Johnson did announce a range of measures, including restrictions on advertising and promotions, to fight obesity, moves the food industry labelled “a punishing blow”.

The Government, which confirmed the move on promos on 28 December, has kicked off an eight-week consultation. Manufacturers criticised the new measures. “Since these ideas were first mooted some 18 months ago, the FDF has produced copious evidence of the devastating impact these proposals will have for both industry and shoppers,” Tim Rycroft, the chief operating officer of trade body The Food and Drink Federation, said.

“The proposed restrictions will not only increase the cost of food for families but it will have harsh economic impacts for food and drink manufacturers who are already bracing themselves for the new costs of Brexit and the repercussions of the global pandemic – all for an average daily 15-calorie reduction.”

The UK government says more than 60% of the country’s population is overweight or obese and points to how “the Covid-19 pandemic has brought to the fore the impact that obesity can have on people’s health and health outcomes”

Public Health Minister Jo Churchill added: “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.”

In November, the UK government put its proposals to ban online adverts promoting food high in fat, sugar and salt out to consultation. The consultation ran to 22 December and government officials are looking at the feedback received.