Food & Drink Promotions in Scotland – new research adds to the evidence

26 August 2020

Although Scottish Government delayed the bill restricting promotions of unhealthy food, justifying the move with uncertainty of economic effects of such legislation, unhealthy food is still being unapologetically promoted in Scotland and is still affecting people’s health.

Last week Food Standards Scotland published a new report using food purchase data from Kantar from 2014 to 2018. From the report we are finding that 32% of calories were purchased on price promotions in 2018 and that unhealthy (discretionary) food largely contributed to it. Similarly to previous years, in 2018 the majority of price promotions were temporary price reductions. What we don’t know is the proportion of calories purchased on non-monetary promotions, such as location at check-outs or end of aisle. The research for our #NastyNudge campaign last year showed that a third of promotions in local supermarkets were non-monetary, therefore the amount of calories we purchased on any promotion was likely much higher than 32%. The volume of food we buy on promotion year on year in Scotland, together with the fact that considerable proportion of promoted food and drink is unhealthy, reveals an obvious area for an intervention to improve national diet.

Apart from the focus on price promotions, the new FSS report highlights small increasing trends in purchase of calories, total fat, saturated fat and sodium in Scotland, taking us further and further away from the targets of the Scottish Dietary Goals. There is, however, one piece of good news: the purchase of total sugar slightly decreased in 2018 compared to previous years. Largely driven by a reduction in purchase of sugar from soft drinks, this is yet more evidence of the Soft Drink Industry Levy’s success. Specifically, it is illustrated by the fact that purchase of soft drinks covered by the levy decreased, while purchase of soft drinks not covered by the levy (those with less than 5g of sugar per 100ml, or less than 2.5 teaspoons of sugar per 200ml glass) sharply increased.

The evidence for effectiveness of regulation, such as the Soft Drink Industry Levy, to improve population diet is clear, and legislation to restrict promotion of unhealthy food and drink in Scotland should be introduced as soon as possible. Although the UK Government has committed to introducing such restrictions in England in their recent obesity strategy, they will limit the restrictions to multibuy offers only. In Scotland in 2018 only 7% out of 32% of price promotions were multibuys. If we want to see real improvements in Scottish diet and health, we need honest measures that have a chance of making a difference – and we need as many of them as possible.

Back to the new FSS report – it is a comprehensive overview with lots of pictures! Apart from the information on price promotions and what we purchase, it also examines pack sizes of confectionery and savoury snacks and looks at differences by household income and the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation. Highly informative.