Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of the Leon restaurant chain and chair of the National Food Strategy, was commissioned by government to execute an independent review on how to achieve a sustainable and fair food system. The terrible health crisis that took over the world in 2020 has shown with alarming clarity the damage being done to our health by the modern food system. Diet related illness is one of the top three risk factors for dying of Covid-19 and has cemented the need for the UK government and businesses to take bold action and revamp its National Food Strategy Plan.
The Strategy, Part Two of which was published in July 2021, lays out a series of recommendations aimed at producing healthy, affordable food and establishing a sustainable agriculture industry. The report further pushes for taxes on sugar and salt, in light of the fact that previous policies have failed to stop the vast increase of junk food consumption.
The plan itself is vast, with almost 300 pages of reading, and comprises 14 separate recommendations to address the issues we currently face, from reducing diet-related inequality, to the creation of a National Food System Data programme. There is so much to aim for, which will undoubtedly bring benefits to many, but how do we get there and how could this impact the foodservice industry?
Two of the recommendations, if implemented, will require big adjustments from manufacturers and operators.
Introduce a Sugar and Salt Reformulation Tax. Use some of the revenue to help get fresh fruit and vegetables to low-income families.
This plan recommends a £3 per kg of tax on wholesale cost of sugar, and £6 per kg on wholesale cost of salt, should be imposed on the food producers and operators in the foodservice industry. An example would be the price of a chocolate bar containing roughly 30g of sugar, going from 65p to 74p.
It suggests that the amount raised, estimated to be worth up to £3.4 billion per year, could be used to promote healthy eating among underprivileged families. One of the ways this can be done is through the provision of free school meals for students; enabling those belonging to less affluent families to be catered for with this policy.
However, the core objective is to discourage food manufacturers from adding sugar and salt content and to be more mindful about the products they are producing and selling. And although this objective is one that is likely to be shared by many, some believe that taxes will not drive reformulation, but will ultimately impact those consumers that are already struggling to make ends meet, by making food and drink more expensive rather than driving the behavioral change it is designed to do.
The balancing act required by manufacturers across the UK and the cost implications for them, whichever way they turn, could be yet another blow to an already wounded industry, with those that have survived the fallout from the national lockdowns now looking at increased costs through sugar and salt tax, or the alternative – finding the budget and resource to manage research and development, product reformulation and packaging updates.
Introduce mandatory reporting for large food companies.
The plan also looks to introduce mandatory reporting for large food companies, those with over 250 employees. This would extend out to retailers, restaurants, fast food outlets, contract caterers, wholesalers, manufacturers and online ordering platforms. Food businesses with a franchising model would be treated as the sum of their franchisees operating under the same brand.
They will have a legal duty to publish annual sales data on various product types such as high-fat/sugar/salt food or drink, meat, dairy, fish, vegetables and fruit, as well as report on their food waste. The metrics should be reviewed every five years.
This disclosure of data – and the public scrutiny that comes with it – aims to encourage businesses to take action to improve their practices. This would then help to pave the way for the substantial shifts in the nation’s diet that are required if we are to reduce the environmental and health impacts of our consumption.
There is no easy solution here. Both recommendations, along with all of the others set out in the plan, create undeniable challenges for the food industry. The aspiration of the 14 recommendations is clear – to improve health, build a better future for future generations and protect our environment. What is not clear, as yet, is how well the industry can handle these challenges and adapt. The government is anticipated to publish a response to the white paper within six months.
Jellybean and many of our friends and colleagues in the industry, will be keeping a watchful eye on the progress of National Food Strategy, to fully understand what may lie ahead. Whatever that may be, we’re still living in a pandemic and the gap between the haves and have-nots could certainly be considered a widening one. Dimbleby’s efforts towards formulating a plan for a better food system will help, amongst other things, to ensure that everyone has access to healthy and nutritious food, and that alone would be a national achievement.
More information on the full plan and the 14 recommendations can be found at www.nationalfoodstrategy.org/