UK supermarkets under fire for increased promotion of unhealthy products to cope with downturn

Posted by Isobel Drake on 1st September 2008

The major UK supermarket chains have all dramatically increased the number of in-store promotions featuring cheap sugary and fatty foods, the National Consumer Council (NCC) claimed today.

The consumer group reported that high fat and high sugar food products now make up over half (54 per cent) of in-store supermarket promotions, nearly double the number recorded in the last survey in 2006. They believe the increase has most likely been heightened in the last couple of months due to the battle between the supermarkets for market share as consumers feel the pinch. The low cost nature of many unhealthy products has consequently led to the increase in promotion of high sugar/fat products, according to the NCC.

The NCC is concerned that such high promotion of products which are meant to make up less than 10 per cent of our diets will only lead to increasing health problems during the downturn. They are particularly worried that fruit and vegetables, which should make up about 33% of our diet, only featured in about 13% of in-store promotions.

The figures were published in ‘Cut-price, what cost?’, the fourth in a series of reports rating the UK’s top eight supermarkets on how they help their customers eat more healthily.

“The volume of in-house promotions for fatty and sugary foods the supermarkets are all offering is staggering. We expected to see evidence of big improvements since our last investigation, but we’ve been sadly disappointed,” said Lucy Yates, the report’s author. “With so many of us buying our food in these supermarkets, their collective behaviour can heavily influence the nation’s eating habits. Despite their claims, the supermarkets all still have a long way to go to help customers choose and enjoy a healthier diet.”

Overall, Sainsbury’s came top for the second time in a row, making good progress in labelling and nutrition, and scoring highly on customer information.

The report rated supermarkets based on the salt content of supermarkets’ own-brand foods, front and back-of-pack nutrition labelling, price promotions, prevalence of sweets at the checkout, and the information and advice the supermarkets make available.

The NCC highlighted that one positive was the reduction in salt of many products since targets were set by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) a few years ago.

To see a full copy of ‘Cut-price, what cost?’ please go to: www.ncc.org.uk/publications/cutprice.pdf