Revisiting the Obesity Debate and the Impact on Local Shops

I’m not the first person to note that the Covid-19 crisis has shaken up politics. After the December 2019 election, we were expecting to be dealing with a government populated by libertarians and putting great faith in the free market and personal responsibility. The one thing we didn’t expect Boris Johnson to be accused of was operating a nanny state, but that’s exactly the charge being levelled by some now.

As well the extraordinary and understandable levels of state intervention in response to Covid we’re seeing the re-surfacing of policies to regulate the formulation, advertising, promotion and siting of certain food and drink. Apparently the Prime Minister’s own awful experience being hospitalised with Coronavirus prompted him to re-open this policy area by commissioning a quick review of options for tackling obesity.

Some of the measures under consideration would damaging to our sector. We made our case in response to the government’s consultation on a Childhood Obesity Plan way back under Theresa May’s premiership, and our concerns remain. You can’t expect a small shop to maintain a set distance between a wide range of products deemed to be unhealthy, and the door, till or aisle end. How would you even start trying to design a convenience store, most of which are close to or below 1,000 sq ft, on this basis?

Restricting where products can be placed and how they can be promoted by retailers is also wildly inconsistent. The government is just about to start potentially the biggest food and drink promotion in UK history by paying half of the bill if you eat out from Mondays – Wednesdays in August. There is no distinction being made between the type of products being consumed, and their nutritional value. If the government really cared about obesity, surely they would first apply conditions to this huge promotion – which they are funding themselves – before trying to regulate what businesses do. The contrast between on one hand the government literally paying for people to eat desserts, and also employing an army of enforcement officers to go to tens of thousands of shops to with tape measures to see how close the confectionery is to the door … no, just no.

As well as being bad for business, this would end up damaging the community and public health. There aren’t loads of other shops clamouring to set up in the housing estates and villages we serve, and we survive and sometimes thrive because of the breadth we offer and how we can respond to customer demand. Take some of those categories away and tell us to operate according to regulators’ needs rather than customer demand, and you make it substantially harder to trade.

Some regulators like the idea of replacing the tobacco, sugar, fat, alcohol and salt sold in our members’ stores with fruit, vegetables and pulses. That’s not the equation here: take away the less healthy parts of the offer, and the healthier parts won’t sustain the business. Do you want local shops selling fruit, vegetables and pulses in those places alongside other categories, or do you want more locations where none of these are available? That’s the choice.

This entry was posted by Chloe on Sun, 19/07/2020 - 09:12