PAPA Response to Government plan to ban advertising of foods high in salt, fat and sugar

In response to a consultation from the Department of Health for a total ban on TV and social media advertising of pizzas and other products high in salt, fat and sugar, the Association has submitted the following response:

To apply a total ban to on-line promotional activity, including emails and social media, would be extremely damaging to the pizza, pasta and Italian food industry and particularly the smaller businesses that rely on online marketing and social media for their business.   Social media is a key form of marketing for these businesses these days.

For many their sales rely on on-line ordering which depends substantially on their ability to engage with potential customers through the various online media.  Without the ability to promote themselves they will struggle to survive, putting thousands of jobs at risk. 

If we understand the proposals correctly, online sales aggregator platforms would not be included in a ban as their principal function is to facilitate an online sale.    If this is correct, this would put independent operators who prefer to do their own local brand marketing at a substantial commercial, and highly unfair, disadvantage.

Equally, any move to ban these sales platforms from functioning would unreasonably restrict their commercial own rights and make them unviable.

Furthermore, without the ability to market themselves, new businesses and new store openings will struggle in today’s world where online activity is a critical factor in reaching out to local audiences.   How are such new ventures expected to build a customer base if they are restricted to communicating only with consumers who have opted-in?   How do they even begin to get customers to opt in?

We also question the ability of the Government to control advertising content online from overseas which could place international brands at a distinct advantage over UK-based businesses/brands.

The proposed inclusion of unpaid promotion in a ban also edges into the freedom of the media to write about businesses offering HFSS products, including online ratings sites such as Trip Advisor.

Furthermore, if the consultation on promotions issued in January 2019 regarding promotions and location restrictions is also brought forward as part of this wider consultation, we anticipate this would result in many businesses failing with further consequences for the UK economy and unemployment.  

This will also affect the supply chains that support these businesses.

We are concerned that this consultation has generally been ill-thought through and, if the proposals are implemented across the broad sectors proposed, the consequences for the food industry generally will be immense, particularly coming on top of the pandemic and consequences of Brexit.

Although this consultation purports to be aimed at reducing childhood obesity, children are generally not the customers targeted by the pizza, pasta and Italian food sector.   Furthermore, there are audience and contextual tools which can be used online to shield children from HFSS advertising without the necessity for a total ban.

Such bans also ignore the critical factor that affects obesity which is overindulgence in food and lack of exercise.   It is not the fact that a  pizza or burger is consumed but the volume of such products that are consumed in a sitting and the frequency of their consumption.   What is needed is a programme of education coupled with clear information on packs stating portions and total calories in a product so that consumers can easily understand what they should be consuming and have the information at hand to make reasoned choices.   We have raised this endlessly with Public Health England to no avail.

As an industry we recognise the need for consumers to balance and manage their diets and we are keen to work with the Government to encourage consumers in this direction but we do not believe that this can be achieved via bans or setting targets for reformulations without the buy-in of consumers to managing their diets.  

The very basics of supply and demand economics show that unless we can convince consumers to change their diets to healthier options, they will continue to consume more than they should.  The very essence of the meal deal, for example, is to cater for the consumer who was already purchasing a meal with extras.  The demand was there before the meal deal was created, it had to be or it would not have worked.   And the core objective of creating the ‘deal’ was to get consumers to buy everything from one site rather than going elsewhere.    Banning meal deals would not stop consumers buying the extras they want as they did before meal deals became available, and often those extras will be less healthy than the combined deal.

To succeed in tackling obesity we must first convince consumers that they should manage their diets – bans and censorship will not achieve this.

We believe these proposals, along with those of January 2019 regarding promotional activity and display, are disproportionate and unfairly damaging to both hospitality and retail businesses.

We believe this consultation has been rushed out without sufficient consideration of the implications of such a ban.   The timing and exceptionally short time allowed for businesses to consider the proposals mean that it has been difficult to gather sufficient evidence of the impact this will have on small entrepreneurial businesses in our sector.  

However, one of our small delivery chain members has reported that 65% of their sales are generated by their own online platform and this is largely driven by advertising and social media.  Without the ability to advertise, they estimate that up to 50% of their current sales would be lost to third-party platforms which would mean that 32.5% of their sales would be 15% less profitable due to the charges they would incur from these platforms.  This would have “significant” implications for growth and employment.

For further information please contact PAPA Director Jim Winship at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.