14 Sep Insider View: August 2016
…But voluntary guidelines aimed at cutting sugar/fat have had mixed results across the board.
There has been an interesting reaction by the major retailers to the news that the Prime Minister is set to scrap some of the proposals put forward to fight childhood obesity, with many preferring legislation to force retailers to sell healthier food. Why? Because any voluntary guidance hits the big names hardest and allows smaller competitors to fall below the radar and get away with not imposing change. They point to previous cuts to salt and fat, with high profile brands adapting their recipes and putting them at a competitive disadvantage over others that have taken no action. They want a level playing field, but the government has drawn back on setting mandatory targets. They face a difficult path. Officials are keen to avoid being labelled a ‘nanny state’ or taking any steps that could hit the struggling economy, and claim that their focus on the sugar tax is a major set forward.
There is another problem if they continue with a ‘softer’ strategy of voluntary guidelines: a growing cynicism of so called ‘expert’ advice could mean consumers stop listening altogether. Most would rather common sense prevailed and aim for ‘everything in moderation’. The problem is common sense doesn’t seem to be working and childhood obesity is on the increase.
While dictating what we should eat and drink is likely to antagonise, especially if advice changes on a seemingly weekly basis, it is equally dangerous for the medical fraternity to keep silent. As Megan Tatum writing in The Grocer pointed out this month, there is a worrying wave of anti-intellectualism that has spilled over from politics and is in danger of damaging our long-term health, something we have highlighted ourselves in previous blogs. She calls for the Department of Health to look again at how they package their guidelines, including providing a greater transparency with the raw data of any scientific studies, a less condescending approach and a more sparing use of experts to deliver the message. What we all want is consistent, scientifically sound advice, together with the opportunity to buy a range of healthy food with the odd treat and drink thrown in. After all, while we all want to live longer, we also want to live our lives to the full.
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Lots of exciting ideas and new thinking in our product selection this month. Like Pork & Black Pudding Rolls from Asda (39), Belvoir Botanicals Cucumber & Mint grape juice (32) and Waitrose Avocado Oil spread (37). But some of the highest scores have gone to the most indulgent products…
- A winning new flavour for Asda’s Yogurt range: Vanilla Yogurt with Apple Strudel Flavour Compote, Still perceived as healthy but so creamy it was “almost like ice cream”, prompting half our testers to recommend. (Showcase Product of the month Review 160822)
- The good old tin can still surprise as Ambrosia proves with its Deluxe Custard with Caramel, 48 delivering a ‘rich, strong aftertaste’. Review 160832.
- Even Marmalade can be re-imagined, as ‘luxurious’ Sliced Corsican Clementine Marmalade, 41, from Albert Menes demonstrates. Review 160807.
- Many would not wait until they had guests to enjoy the Co-op’s punchy new Mexican Nut Mix, 44. A crunchy, ‘moreish’ mix of spiced nuts. Review 160818.
- And Lakenham Creamery’s Norfolk County Ice Cream brings a touch of class to the freezer with its Crema Pistachio, 44. Only the price limited this to an occasional treat. (Review 160811).
 M Tatum, ‘When it comes to health, we really should trust the experts’, The Grocer 10 Aug 2016