A new report from The Food Foundation has found that 41 per cent of price promotions are on food and drink high in fat, salt and/or sugar (HFSS), compared to just 3.3 per cent on fruit and veg and 3.9 per cent on staple carbohydrates like bread and pasta.
Over a quarter (27.5%) of multibuy offers are on HFSS food and drink, compared to just 4.1 per cent on fruit and veg
The report, published in partnership with Questionmark, as part of its Kids Food Guarantee, is part of an ongoing programme of work monitoring the costs of healthy foods that are key elements of children’s diets and calling on supermarkets to ensure healthier products are affordable and available for parents struggling with the cost of living crisis.
The Kids Food Guarantee has looked at price promotions across the five largest UK retailers; Aldi, Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco for the first time.
Government regulations on HFSS products have so far focused on where products are placed in stores and on limiting multibuy offers, though implementation of this second measure has been delayed until October 2025. The report, however, shows that a very high proportion of promotions are temporary price promotions (61 per cent of all price and multibuy promotions).
The organisation said the government and retailers therefore should look at both price promotions and multibuys when aiming to shift sales towards healthier foods.
The Kids Food Guarantee has been monitoring and reporting on prevalence of multibuy offers on healthy vs. unhealthy products since April 2023. This latest update finds that retailers have taken little action to place deals on staple carbohydrates or fruit and vegetables.
There has, in fact, been a slight decrease in the proportion of multibuys on fruit and vegetables (from 4.5% in July to 4.1% in August) and in offers on staple carbohydrates (from 4.2% in July to 3% in August).
With government regulation on HFSS multibuys postponed, retailers are continuing to focus their promotional spend on HFSS food and drinks, with over a quarter (27.5%) of multibuy offers on HFSS food and drink in August. This has barely changed since July when 27.3 per cent of multibuy offers were on HFSS food and drink, and is similar to April’s findings, when 29 per cent of multibuy offers were on HFSS food and drink.
The higher price of healthier calories relative to less healthy calories means it is already more challenging for citizens struggling with the cost of living to afford a healthy diet, especially those from low income groups, the foundation noted, adding that the current distribution of price promotions and multibuys do not help with the affordability of basic, staple, nutritious foods.
Despite food inflation falling in recent months, The Food Foundation’s Basic Basket tracker shows that the price of a weekly adequately nutritious food shop remains high.
The Food Foundation said it would like those retailers who offer multibuys and price promotions to ensure that these deals are on staple foods that contribute to a healthy diet rather than on discretionary foods, provided that any cost savings aren’t simply pushed back onto growers and producers.
The majority of UK retailers now report on and have targets in place to achieve a higher proportion of healthier sales. Promotional spend will need to align with these targets if they are to be met, it added.
“We would urge the government to reconsider their delay of the planned restriction on HFSS multibuy promotions. HFSS multibuy promotion restrictions already have the necessary legislation in place to be swiftly implemented and yet they have been delayed until 2025,” Rebecca Tobi, senior business and investor manager, The Food Foundation, said.
“With food price inflation remaining at much higher levels than general inflation we know that many families are still struggling to afford healthy essentials. The government and retailers need to do much more to shift price and multibuy promotions to non HFSS, healthier foods. Ensuring more promotions are on healthier foods would also alleviate concerns that any restrictions on food promotions will increase prices for consumers.”