Publication - Consultation analysis

Reducing health harms of foods high in fat, sugar, or salt: consultation analysis

Published: 13 Sep 2019

Independent analysis of the responses to the consultation on proposals to restrict the promotion and marketing of foods high in fat, sugar, or salt, and have little to no nutritional benefit.

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106 page PDF

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Contents
Reducing health harms of foods high in fat, sugar, or salt: consultation analysis
5. Forms of promotion and marketing to be restricted (Qs 5-6)

106 page PDF

1.9 MB

5. Forms of promotion and marketing to be restricted (Qs 5-6)

5.1. The consultation paper proposed that the restrictions would include and exclude certain forms of promotion and marketing and sought views on (i) price promotions that would be subject to restrictions, and (ii) other forms of promotion and marketing that would be subject to restrictions.

Price promotions that would be subject to restrictions 

5.2. The consultation paper proposed restrictions on price promotions on the basis that evidence suggests these promotions increase sales, which is not offset by purchasing one brand over another or reducing the purchase of other foods. The paper proposed, in particular, restrictions on multi-buys (e.g. products sold together to obtain a discount or products given for free as a result of a purchase) and the sale of unlimited amounts for a fixed charge (e.g. unlimited refills for £X). It outlined that the Scottish Government was not proposing to restrict temporary price reductions (e.g. £X off) and multi-packs (i.e. multiple items sold as a single item). Respondents were asked whether they agreed that this policy should: (i) restrict multi-buys and the sales of unlimited amounts for a fixed charge and (ii) not restrict temporary price reductions and multi-packs.

Question 5: In relation to the foods being targeted, should this policy seek to:
Restrict multi-buys;
Restrict sales of unlimited amounts for a fixed charge;
Not restrict temporary price reductions;
Not restrict multi-packs?

Overview

Restricting multi-buys 

5.3. Over half of the organisation respondents agreed with the proposal to restrict multi-buys (53%). Disagreement was relatively low - over a tenth (14%). However, close to a third (30%) did not provide a tick box answer. Close to half of the individual respondents agreed with the proposal to restrict multi-buys (49%). However, more than two-fifths disagreed (44%). The results are displayed in
Table 5.1.

Table 5.1 Responses to question 5 – restrict multi-buys

Answer Organisations Individuals
n % n %
Yes 50 53% 308 49%
No 13 14% 278 44%
Don’t know 3 3% 32 5%
Not answered 28 30% 12 2%
Conflicting/possible conflicting answers[35] 0 0% 2 0%
Total 94 100% 632 100%

Organisation respondents overview

5.4. Breaking down the findings further from the responses in the table above, it was possible to see different views in the responses from different types of organisation. Over two-thirds of the non-industry organisation respondents agreed with restricting multi-buys (69%). Notably more than a fifth (22%) did not provide a tick box answer.  Over two-fifths of the industry organisation respondents did not give a tick box response (41%). Close to a third agreed (31%), while more than a quarter (28%) disagreed. The full breakdown of responses is provided in Annex 2, Table A2.4.

Restricting unlimited amounts for a fixed charge 

5.5. Over half of the organisation respondents agreed with the proposal to restrict sales of unlimited amounts for a fixed charge (53%). Disagreement was relatively low - just under a tenth (9%). However, close to a third (31%) did not provide a tick box answer. Close to half of the individual respondents agreed with the proposal to restrict sales of unlimited amounts for a fixed charge (47%). However, more than two-fifths disagreed (42%). The results are displayed in Table 5.2.

Table 5.2 Responses to question 5 – restrict unlimited amounts for a fixed charge

Answer Organisations Individuals
n % n %
Yes 50 53% 299 47%
No 9 9% 268 42%
Don’t know 6 6% 50 8%
Not answered 29 31% 14 2%
Possible conflicting answer[36] 0 0% 1 0%
Total 94 100% 632 100%

Organisation respondents overview

5.6. Breaking down the findings further from the responses in the table above, it was possible to see different views in the responses from different types of organisation. Over two-thirds of the non-industry organisation respondents agreed with restricting unlimited amounts for a fixed charge (69%). Notably more than a fifth (22%) did not provide a tick box answer.  Over two-fifths of the industry organisation respondents did not give a tick box response (44%). Close to a third agreed (31%), while just over a fifth (21%) disagreed. The full breakdown of responses is provided in Annex 2, Table A2.5.

Not restricting temporary price reductions

5.7. Over a third of organisation respondents agreed with the proposal to not restrict temporary price reductions (35%). A quarter disagreed, believing that these should be restricted (26%). Notably a third did not provide a tick box answer (32%). More than half of the individual respondents agreed with the proposal to not restrict temporary price reductions (57%). A quarter disagreed, believing that these should be restricted (24%).

5.8. It should be noted that among individual respondents there were relatively high levels of conflicting answer ‘no’ responses in relation to the proposal to not restrict temporary price reductions – i.e. their written explanation did not match the answer option selected. While their written explanation was not sufficiently clear to confidently correct their answer, typically anti-restriction type sentiments were noted and therefore it is most likely that their actual view would have been agreement with not restricting this form of promotion. Is it likely, therefore, that the level of ‘yes’ responses (and therefore support for the policy outlined in the consultation paper) is an underestimate. The results are displayed in Table 5.3.

Table 5.3 Responses to question 5 – not restrict temporary price reductions

Answer Organisations Individuals
n % n %
Yes 33 35% 365 57%
No 24 26% 153 24%
Don’t know 7 7% 40 6%
Not answered 30 32% 47 7%
Conflicting/possible conflicting answers[37] 0 0% 27 4%
Total 94 100% 632 100%

Organisation respondents overview

5.9. Breaking down the findings further from the responses in the table above, it was possible to see different views in the responses from different types of organisation. Just over a quarter (27%) of the non-industry organisation respondents thought that temporary price promotions should not be restricted. Just over a third disagreed with the proposals i.e. felt that they should be restricted (36%). A quarter did not provide a tick box answer (24%). Close to half of the industry organisation respondents agreed with not restricting temporary price promotions (46%), but very similar numbers (44%) did not give a tick box response. The full breakdown of responses is provided in Annex 2, Table A2.6.

Not restricting multi-packs

5.10. Over a third of organisation respondents agreed with the proposal to not restrict multi-packs (38%). A quarter disagreed, believing that these should be restricted (25%). Notably a third did not provide a tick box answer (33%). More than half of the individual respondents agreed with the proposal to not restrict multi-packs (55%). A quarter disagreed, believing that these should be restricted (25%).

5.11. It should be noted that among individual respondents there were relatively high levels of conflicting answer ‘no’ responses in relation to the proposal to not restrict multi-packs – i.e. their written explanation did not match the answer option selected. While their written explanation was not sufficiently clear to confidently correct their answer, typically anti-restriction type sentiments were noted and therefore it is most likely that their actual view would have been agreement with not restricting this form of promotion. Is it likely, therefore, that the level of ‘yes’ responses (and therefore support for the policy outlined in the consultation paper) is an underestimate. The results are displayed in Table 5.4.

Table 5.4 Responses to question 5 – not restrict multi-packs

Answer Organisations Individuals
n % n %
Yes 35 38% 351 55%
No 23 25% 160 25%
Don’t know 5 5% 46 7%
Not answered 31 33% 50 8%
Conflicting/possible conflicting answers[38] 0 0% 25 4%
Total 94 100% 632 100%

Organisation respondents overview

5.12. Breaking down the findings further from the responses in the table above, it was possible to see different views in the responses from different types of organisation. A third (33%) of the non-industry organisation respondents thought that multi-packs should not be restricted. Just over a third disagreed with the proposals i.e. felt that these promotions should be restricted (35%). A quarter did not provide a tick box answer (25%). Over two-fifths of the industry organisation respondents agreed with not restricting multi-packs (44%), but very similar numbers (44%) did not give a tick box response. The full breakdown of responses is provided in Annex 2, Table A2.7.

‘Other’ answer option

5.13. Within the question, an option to select ‘other’ was also provided. Fifty-eight respondents (49 individuals and 9 organisations) offered a comment at this point and a further eight respondents (all organisations) that ticked none of the answer options were interpreted from their comments as ‘other’ responses. Since ‘other’ responses were largely answered interchangeably with ‘please explain your answer’, these have been analysed alongside the rest of the explanations provided in response to the question.

Response patterns

5.14. Since respondents were asked to explain their answer to a multi-part question in one place, it was not always clear which answer options they were seeking to explain and, at times, they only commented on certain aspects (e.g. only multi-buys or only multi-packs). Consideration of views, therefore, focuses on the most common pattern of responses and any aspects of note in relation to the specific types of promotions covered.

Agreement with the proposals

5.15. While individually for each aspect of the question agreement was higher than disagreement, total agreement with the proposals (i.e. ‘yes’ to restricting multi-buys and sales of unlimited amounts for a fixed charge, and ‘yes’ to not restricting temporary price reductions and multi-packs) was more common among organisation respondents (18% of all organisation respondents - including some public sector, some other organisations, few manufacturers, a retailer, and a third sector organisation) than among individual respondents (9% of all individual respondents). Where an explanation was provided, this typically indicated agreement with the rationale laid out in the consultation paper. One other organisation respondent noted the need to subsequently review the implications of not including temporary price restrictions and multi-packs.

Pro-restriction stance

5.16. The view in favour of restricting all four types of promotions (i.e. ‘yes’ to restricting multi-buys and sales of unlimited amounts for a fixed charge and ‘no’ to not restricting temporary price reductions and multi-packs) was slightly more common among organisation respondents (19% of all organisation respondents -including some public sector, some third sector, few other organisations, a manufacturer and a retailer) than among individual respondents (16% of all individual respondents). Many of those expressing this view suggested that all of these promotions should be included as they may all be ways of encouraging the consumption of unhealthy foods and specifically may all be methods used by retailers to influence consumption. References to the need for a consistent and a blanket approach were made. Few noted that, if some types of promotion such as temporary price reductions and multi-packs were exempt, these could become loopholes that retailers would then seek to use.

Logic for restricting types of promotions

5.17. Where there was agreement with restricting a promotion type (regardless of which of the four promotion types was being referred to and regardless of how many of the four types the respondent agreed with restricting), the rationale for restricting the promotions was typically the same. The main reasons expressed were[39]: that these types of promotions are designed to encourage people to purchase more than they intend or need to as they give the impression of being good value for money; and that they encourage overconsumption as once bought they are more likely to be consumed in addition to what is needed. Unlimited amounts for a fixed charge were singled out as particularly likely to encourage immediate overconsumption as these may often be consumed at the time (e.g. free soft drink refills) and cannot be saved for a later date. 

5.18. Few suggested that these types of promotions specifically target those on a low income who are most receptive to the idea of getting a good deal or making savings. Therefore, they are disproportionately likely to suffer the health impacts of overconsumption.

Anti-restriction stance

5.19. Disagreement with all four types of promotions (i.e. ‘no’ to restricting multi-buys and sales of unlimited amounts for a fixed charge, and ‘yes’ to not restricting temporary price reductions and multi-packs) was relatively low among organisation respondents (9% of all organisation respondents - few manufacturers and some industry representative bodies) but the most common pattern of answers observed among individual respondents (35% of all individuals). Half of those that were against restricting these four types of promotions indicated this was due to being against the introduction of mandatory restrictions and by default felt these forms of promotion should not be restricted. 

5.20. The rest of the respondents in this group (i.e. those against restricting the four types of promotions) gave more specific reasons for their view, each expressed by few of the respondent type indicated:

  • Individual respondents noted that removing these promotions would increase the costs of these foods for consumers. There was specific concern that those on a low income may be dependent on these low cost foods and that removing promotions would make them more expensive but would not make other foods more affordable. As a consequence, there was concern that those on a low income would be disproportionately disadvantaged and more likely to struggle financially;
  • Individual respondents noted that removing these promotions was unfair to those who eat sensibly, as it was felt that their opportunity to take advantage of savings would be removed due to the inability of some people to control their eating habits;
  • Individual respondents thought the proposed restrictions would be ineffective either because individuals would continue to buy unhealthy foods or because they believed retailers would find ways to work around them;
  • Manufacturer and industry representative body respondents felt these restrictions should not apply because they would disproportionately disadvantage small businesses that rely on these types of promotional mechanism and do not have the same ability as larger businesses to find other ways to provide low prices. They also flagged the implications for packaging, specifically that it would be costly to design packaging purely for the Scottish market, which would be required to avoid making value claims;
  • Retailer respondents described how multi-buys are used during festive periods to purchase presents. Restriction of these would increase costs for consumers; and
  • Manufacturer respondents noted that the restrictions would also prevent the marketing of healthier or reformulated products (such as lower sugar soft drinks) in the discretionary categories, which would reduce the incentive for developing these alternatives.

Logic for not restricting types of promotion

5.21. In terms of the specific promotions listed where there was support for not restricting them (regardless of how many of the four types the respondent disagreed with restricting), with the exception of unlimited amounts for a fixed charge, the main reasons expressed for not restricting them were[40] that these: 

  • May be shared among a number of people; 
  • Do not necessarily result in overconsumption;
  • Enable people to buy in bulk which aids budgeting; and
  • Offer savings that are needed for those on a low income. 

5.22. One reason for allowing multi-packs (expressed by few individual respondents, few public sector respondents and one manufacturer respondent), which differed from the other types of promotion, was that these were thought to be unlikely to encourage overconsumption, as they help to demonstrate single portion sizes.

5.23. Although temporary price reductions were noted to be outside of scope for the proposals, there was concern among some manufacturer respondents and few industry representative body respondents about restrictions on promotion of value meaning that the price reductions could not be communicated to consumers. They suggested that this would reduce the information available to consumers running counter to recent efforts to make value clearer; and inhibit brand competition since, if consumers cannot easily identify that a discount is being offered, they are unlikely to switch brands; and as a consequence price reductions would be rendered pointless and would consequently lead to an increase in prices for the Scottish public.

Other points

5.24. Regardless of overall viewpoint (i.e. expressed both among those for or against restricting the types of promotions) and among individuals and organisations, a view emerged (but expressed by few in total) that there is a need to make healthy foods cheaper and/or provide offers on healthy food. It was thought that the relative expense (or perceived expense) of making healthier choices would continue to pose a barrier to healthy eating.

Approach to restricting other forms of promotion and marketing 

5.25. The consultation paper noted consideration was being given to restricting other forms of promotion or marketing (beyond those described in question 5 above) where discretionary foods are sold to the public. Examples were provided such as restrictions on: where discretionary foods could be placed, promotion of value (e.g. drawing attention to price reductions), displays/signage, upselling, use of coupons, purchase rewards, free samples, branded chillers and floor display units, sale/leasing display spaces for discretionary foods, manufacturers and distributors providing promotional or marketing material and making arrangements for the display of foods subject to the restrictions.

5.26. It was noted that restrictions were not planned to include: packaging (except in relation to promotion of value), position on shelf, number of aisles/locations and size/volume of foods.

5.27. Respondents were asked to comment on the proposed restrictions.  

Question 6: Please comment on the approach we are proposing to take to restricting forms of promotion and marketing outlined in section 5 [of the consulation paper]

Overview

5.28. In total 651 respondents (78 organisations; 573 individuals) gave a specific response to this question (i.e. excluding blanks and ‘no comment’ responses).

5.29. Although this was an open question (i.e. not a tick box question), written explanations were analysed to try to quantify what proportion indicated overall agreement and disagreement with the approach. It is important to note that a number of respondents gave no overall indication, but instead made a specific point or points in relation to the content of the approach. Therefore, their overall stance (if indeed they had one) for this question is not known. The figures below therefore provide only a rough indication and should be interpreted with caution. 

5.30. Half of the organisation respondents gave a written explanation that indicated agreement with the approach, almost a quarter indicated disagreement and the same proportion did not give an overall indication.

5.31. Just over two-fifths of individual respondents gave a written explanation that indicated agreement with the approach, over a third indicated disagreement and over a fifth did not give an overall indication.

5.32. Breaking down the organisation respondents described above, close to three-quarters of the non-industry organisation respondents indicated agreement with the approach and a fifth gave no overall indication. Half of the industry organisation respondents disagreed with the approach and close to a third gave no overall indication.

Agreement with the approach to restrict other forms of promotion and marketing

5.33. Many of those that agreed with the approach simply stated that they agreed or thought the approach was sensible or reasonable. Few respondents (individuals) cautioned that, although they agreed, they thought the approach did not go ‘far enough’. Despite their overall agreement, some went on to highlight specific issues that they thought should or should not be included. These are considered further below (see para 5.40 onwards).

Disagreement with the approach to restrict other forms of promotion and marketing 

5.34. Among individual respondents that indicated disagreement, many noted that they did not agree with mandatory restrictions and therefore did not agree with the approach. Few thought the approach would not be effective as people would still not know how to make healthier choices, how to cook healthy foods and how to live a healthier lifestyle. Few raised concerns that restrictions of this nature ‘interfered’ with businesses that should be able to market their products as they choose. Few preferred other approaches such as educating people to make healthier choices and dealing with the root causes of poverty.

5.35. Many manufacturer respondents, some industry representative body respondents and few individual respondents referred to the potential impact on business, particularly that the proposed restrictions may disproportionately affect smaller businesses, which are more likely to use in-store promotion such as ‘feature space’ at end of aisles/power aisles (as opposed to having the budget for other forms of marketing such as national TV commercials). Similarly, Scottish brands and local and craft producers were thought to be at a disadvantage to large global brands that are supported by significant marketing and advertising budgets.

5.36. Industry representative body respondents also reported the following concerns (each expressed by few):

  • Small stores would struggle to implement changes in the approach due to space. The concept of store areas is not applicable to many small stores and, therefore, better definitions are required for restricted locations;
  • Caution was given that larger convenience stores may have to withdraw community services (e.g. cash points) in order to find compliant space for discretionary items;
  • The approach assumes autonomy of marketing decisions – many convenience stores are part of symbol groups and, as such, are not always able to select and control what products they put on promotion;
  • Clarity is required, for example, on how restrictions would apply to existing contracts between retailers and brand owners, relating to branded chillers and floor display units, as well as clarification on what is classified as above average size price label;
  • There was a sense that the approach targeted marketing techniques that the industry used not to increase sales but to encourage brand loyalty and switching within category; and
  • There was also concern that altering loyalty schemes was very complex and costly. It may be prohibitively difficult to amend them only for Scotland.

5.37. Some retailer respondents questioned whether there was sufficient evidence to justify the restrictions proposed. They were concerned as to whether the approach would be balanced and whether it would place an undue burden on manufacturers and retailers during an already difficult period.

5.38. A notable issue raised across organisation types (but by few in total) was that more information was needed to be able to fully comment on the proposals, as the list was noted to not be exhaustive. Few emphasised that clear definitions would be needed; for example, to define what ‘placement at checkouts’ means (i.e. how close to the checkout this would apply). Few raised concerns that the approach is complex and potentially difficult to enforce. 

5.39. Few manufacturer respondents re-emphasised the point made in relation to question 5: that they felt products with lower fat, sugar and salt profiles should be allowed to be promoted and aligned to already established guidelines and legislation – for example, the sugar tax on soft drinks. They noted that if lower fat, sugar and salt products cannot be promoted, it would limit businesses’ ability to nudge people towards healthier products.

Aspects of the approach to include 

5.40. Few respondents that answered the question highlighted specific aspects of the approach for inclusion (regardless of whether they stated an overall view). Among these few respondents, the most common suggestions included:

  • Many individual respondents thought that placement restrictions particularly in relation to HFSS foods at checkouts should be included. It was felt that placement at the tills was designed to tempt people and was particularly problematic in relation to being visible to children while queuing. As a consequence, parents are subjected to ‘pester power’. Few retailer respondents, however, questioned whether these were needed given the voluntary measures already underway – for example, to remove confectionery from the checkout;
  • Few individual respondents mentioned upselling at checkouts. It was noted that it is particularly hard to refuse an offer communicated in person and may result in people buying things that they did not intend to. It was also noted that this is almost always unhealthy food; and
  • Few individual respondents and few non-industry organisation respondents noted that the size of products should also be addressed. There was concern about the increasing use of ‘sharing’ bags that may lead to individuals inadvertently overeating. Similarly, few noted that they found it increasingly difficult to buy a single portion or small amount and consequently believed people may struggle to identify what an appropriate amount to eat is. 

Aspects of the approach to exclude 

5.41. Few respondents that answered the question highlighted specific aspects of the approach for exclusion (regardless of whether they stated an overall view). Among these few respondents the most common suggestions included:

  • Coupons, vouchers, free samples and loyalty points were thought by many individual respondents to be useful to those on a low income and unlikely to drive overconsumption;
  • Branded coolers – these were thought by some individual respondents to not be particularly influential on purchasing decisions and removing them was thought by few individual respondents and few public sector respondents to be potentially onerous for small businesses; and
  • Placement restrictions – as well as being flagged for inclusion (see para 5.40), few individual respondents flagged that businesses should be able to determine where to position their stock in order to sell it and that consumers want easy access to popular items. Few industry organisation respondents suggested exclusions for seasonal products that do not fit in to normal space and due to high turnover should be accessible for health and safety reasons. They also flagged that aisle ends were needed for extra storage during busy periods.

Contact

Email: Leigh.Edwardson@gov.scot