Brits oppose plain packaging on junk food

Only 11% of Brits believe plain ‘tobacco-style’ packaging would have a significant impact on whether they bought junk food or not, according to new research.

The survey found that the British public would not back plain packaging on foods high in sugar, salt, and fat as part of any strategy to fight obesity.

More than four in ten (43%) said they actively opposed the introduction of plain packaging, compared to the third (34%) who backed the move, according to a survey of 2,000 UK adults.

Michael Coppen-Gardner, managing director of SPQR Communications, which commissioned the survey, said that intervention in the market had become the government’s de facto approach for tackling the obesity epidemic.

He told Printweek: “There is no silver bullet when it comes to tackling obesity, but we risk going backwards if the objectives of public health are out of step with public opinion.

“It’s a lose-lose situation if the regulatory approach to HFSS [foods High in Fat, Sugar, and Salt] destroys brand value and alienates the public at the same time.”

Plain packaging for junk food gained popular attention after it was recommended in 2019 by then chief medical officer of England, Sally Davies.

According to the SPQR report, British shoppers currently spend 40% of their grocery budget on foods that are high in fat, sugar, and salt.

Mike Ridgway, director of the Consumer Packaging Manufacturers’ Alliance (CPMA), told Printweek that he was not convinced that plain packaging had worked for tobacco, let alone that it would work for junk food.

He said: “If you talk to the tobacco advocates like ASH [Action on Smoking and Health], the British Heart Foundation and people like that, they will wave banners from the top of their houses saying it’s been marvellous.

“The facts are it hasn’t had that effect.”

Ridgway cited the fact that while plain packaging is supposed to discourage younger consumers, smoking increased among young people during the pandemic.

“If plain packaging was going to have an effect on reducing smoking levels, why was it that during that period smoking increased within that sector of the population?”

Marketing consultants Brand Finance estimated in 2019 that extending plain packaging to junk food and alcohol could cost brands £330bn.

David Haigh, CEO of Brand Finance said at the time: “However, the predicted loss of brand contribution to companies at risk is just the tip of the iceberg.

“Plain packaging would also lead to losses in the creative industries, including design and advertising services, which are heavily reliant on FMCG contracts.”

Ridgway added that the debate is too loose to yet make any solid predictions for how changes could affect the printing industry.

He said any instructions to make packaging plain – or simpler – were ill-defined.

“It was ‘please can you make the packaging less ‘glitzy’ – now, define to me what ‘glitzy’ is, and what’s glitzy in one person’s eyes as opposed to another person’s eyes.

“There’s an awful lot of generalisation in all of this.”

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