UK food ad restrictions 'could affect sales'

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Ofcom Food

New food advertising restrictions in the UK will have a major
impact on the market and could affect sales, according to law firm

Ofcom's announcement that it plans to restrict advertising food and drink with high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) content during television programming aimed at under 16s has already sparked a great deal of controversy.

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) for example claims it was "shocked that after a lengthy consultation Ofcom has moved the goalposts,"​ while the National Consumer Council (NCC), said that the proposals "don't get to the heart of the problem."

Owen Warnock, food law specialist at Eversheds law firm, intimated that such disagreements would likely continue.

"Ofcom's original proposals were aimed at children up to the age of nine,"​ he said. "However it is now intended to widen the restrictions to cover children up to sixteen years old. There will be a further brief consultation on this change, which will be hotly debated."

Warnock added that as they stand, the proposals would also likely have a noticeable impact on the industry.

"To some extent, the food and drink industry has already demonstrated its ability to self-regulate, with some choosing to withdraw from targeting advertising to younger children. However, the Ofcom restrictions will have a much greater impact on the market, quite possibly affecting the sales of many popular products."

The food and drink industry will soon have written guidelines as to what will and won't be acceptable.

"One surprise is how quickly it is intended to introduce the new rules: the proposed implementation period from January to June 2007 will have a significant impact on both the television industry and on food manufacturing,"​ said Warnock.

"I would expect significant pressure from those sectors for a longer transition period so as to minimise unnecessary economic and financial disruption."

He added however that some in the food industry would welcome the fact that the ban will apply only to foods high in fat, salt or sugar. One of the options considered by Ofcom was to ban the advertising of all foods to children.

However the general consensus within the UK food industry is that the new restrictions on TV food and drink advertising are far too stringent. The FDF for example has called Ofcom's decision to impose a total ban on high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) food and drink advertisements in and around all programmes of particular appeal to children under the age of 16 as "over the top".

The industry has consistently argued that a ban is not the answer. Speaking at the recent CIAA Congress in Brussels, Unilever CEO Patrick Cescau said that the best approach was still self-regulation, and industry bodies such as the FDF have argued that the food industry should be given the opportunity to act responsibly.

But Ofcom claims that under this package of measures, in households where children's viewing includes a large number of programmes targeted at adults as well as programmes for children and young people, children under 16 would see 41 per cent fewer HFSS food and drink advertisements. For under-9s the reduction would be 51 per cent.

There would also be greater reductions in digital television households where children's programmes, dedicated children's channels and programmes of particular appeal to under-16s make up a growing share of viewing by the young.

"Based on the evidence and analysis we believe the case for intervention is clear,"​ said Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards.

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