Restrictions on where shops in England can display junk food come into effect today.
Products that are high in fat, salt and sugar can no longer be placed in prominent locations such as shop entrances and tills.
But a proposed ban on multibuy deals for junk food – such as “buy one, get one free” offers – is being delayed until October 2023.
Prime Minister Liz Truss was reportedly concerned that those measures would increase pressure on consumers already struggling with surging costs.
James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, said: “Local shops have sunk huge sums of money in refitting their stores to comply with these regulations when their businesses are already under pressure from rising energy bills and increased product costs.
“Retailers have been frustrated by the government’s rushed approach to policy development and indecision about implementation dates.”
The Food and Drink Federation said the delay to the ban on multibuy deals is welcome news, including for hard-pressed shoppers as inflation remains elevated.
Chief executive Karen Betts said: “Our industry looks forward to continuing to work with government to help tackle obesity and poor diets.
“Food and drink businesses know we play a critical role in this, and we have worked hard over many years to redevelop the recipes of our products to make them healthier while retaining their delicious flavours. This has included work to help people choose appropriate portion sizes.”
But Barbara Crowther of the Children’s Food Campaign said she was “disappointed” by the delay – and argued that multibuy deals actually result in people spending 22% more on impulsive bulk purchases of less healthy food and drink.
“We hope that companies will now use this extra time responsibly to focus their price offers around healthier foods, which would be the best way of supporting families to access healthy food in this cost of living crisis,” she added.
Nonetheless, Ms Crowther expressed hope that today’s new rules will “shift the promotional spotlight to healthier products”.
Mark Jones is a food and drink supply chain expert at the law firm Gordons. He points to figures that suggest 28% of adults in England are obese and a further 36% are overweight – with childhood obesity rates hitting an all-time high during the pandemic.
“Some 28% of children are now overweight and 41% of 10 to 11-year-olds are overweight, which doesn’t bode well for the future,” he warned.
“Obesity currently costs the taxpayer more than the police, fire service and judicial system combined.”
He added that “something needs to be done to tackle rising obesity rates”.