Junk food brand owners prepare for a major body blow from new Bill

Junk food brand owners prepare for a major body blow from new Bill

McdonaldsBrand owners have condemned a new Bill which seeks to outlaw the promotion of snack foods to children through websites, product packaging and point of sale materials.

A Private Members Bill from Nigel Griffiths MP, which gets its first reading in Parliament this week, proposes significantly tightening restrictions on marketing salty, fatty and sugary foods to children.

It could have a devastating effect on fast-food chains such as McDonald’s, which make heavy use of posters and other advertising materials to market snack products to children within their restaurants.

The Bill’s main proposal is to ban junk food ads during all television programmes shown before 9pm. At present, only programmes that appeal mainly to children are forbidden from showing such commercials.

But in a move that would significantly affect the design, sales promotions and online industries, the Bill would extend the restrictions across all forms of non-broadcast marketing. It would effectively outlaw brand websites for products high in salt, fat and sugar (HFSS) – as defined by the Food Standards Agency’s nutrient profiling model – which are visited by children. Packaging design of HFSS products would also be strictly regulated, and in-store promotions would be made illegal.

Restrictions that go too far
Baroness Peta Buscombe, chief executive of the Advertising Association, says: “There are already tough restrictions which apply in the non-broadcast media. This Private Members Bill goes too far and will have unintended consequences.” Meanwhile, Ian Twinn, public affairs spokesman of brand owners’ organisation ISBA, says: “This private member’s bill, and the so-called consumer organisations backing it, fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the obesity problem. Advertisers are as concerned as anyone else to help find a solution but a crude ban is too simplistic.” Industry observers are awaiting further details of the Bill. While few believe it is likely to become law, it could well form the basis of future legislation.

According to sales promotion specialist Jamie Matthews, managing director of Initials Marketing, such legislation would severely damage in-store marketing by fast-food chains. “One of fast-food retailers’ biggest areas of marketing is their point of sale material. Restricting the in-store environment is going to be the last nail in the coffin for marketing for a lot of the fast-food brands,” he says. “They will effectively have to become adult brands.” But he believes that supermarkets and food and drink brands would be unaffected by restrictions on point of sale material, since most have already moved away from aggressively targeting children as they fear being pilloried by lobby groups.

At present, only paid-for food and drink advertising on the internet is regulated, though the rules apply to all foods apart from fruit and vegetables and irrespective of nutrient profiling. But the Bill proposes applying nutrient profiling to all forms of non-broadcast advertising. Controversially, it would also cover brand websites that are currently exempt because they are considered as editorial. This is bound to stoke fears about censorship and freedom of speech.

A price worth paying?
The Bill is backed by lobby group Which? and a range of health charities. Children’s Food Campaign co-ordinator Richard Watts says details of how the point-of-sale ban would work are still being ironed out. But he adds that it would aim to curtail all marketing of HFSS products to children within restaurants. “It would create difficulties for the likes of McDonald’s, but we think that is a price they should pay on behalf of improving children’s health,” he says.

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email customerservices@marketingweek.com

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here