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BOGOF - An offer you can't refuse?

In May, the government delayed important legislation to ban BOGOF (buy one get one free) offers in supermarket. They say that with a crisis in the cost of living, they do not want the poorest in society to be penalised. This sounds reasonable enough, but as they stand, these offers are not philanthropic, and neither is the delay to banning them.

Who Really Benefits?

Firstly, let’s get one thing clear. Supermarkets and manufacturers do not make these offers for the benefit of us consumers. They do it because there is a lot in it for them. The frustrating thing is that the majority of these sort of offers are applied to unnecessary, highly processed foods, not to unprocessed healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. Surely it would be easy enough to do a BOGOF on an apple, a lettuce, broccoli? This doesn’t happen because the manufacturer often covers the cost of these offers. Having already squeezed the farmers margins to the limit, to do the same for fresh produce means the supermarkets would have to cover the costs themselves. It’s never about the food, it’s always about the profits.

A 2019 study of sugar taxes introduced globally showed that a 10% rise in tax on sugar resulted in UK sugar consumption from drinks going down by 10%. The level of sales stayed the same. These measures work, and it is the responsibility of government to implement them. If the government were so concerned with not hitting the pockets of the poorest amongst us, then they would be actively addressing the rising cost of eating healthily, especially if they are going to backtrack on planned legislation about BOGOF offers. T

he fact is, the government is doing neither. It does not wish to bite the hand that feeds it and it always seeks to serve corporate needs before the health of the nation. The economy our children will experience will heave under the weight of supporting the obese and chronically ill, who are unable to work or live fulfilling lives. All for the sake of serving the needs of voracious shareholders and a government eager to retain power at all costs, by any means.

Nutrition and Health are Low Priority

Despite corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies, there are very few policies that target nutrition and health. Most are to do with green policies and low effort activities like providing a box for customers to give to foodbanks or reducing food waste. Laudable, but they are mostly targeted at revenue in the long run, especially when studies show that people base their loyalty on what a supermarket does not do, rather than what it does. In other words, putting in a food bank doesn’t make much difference to customer’s attitudes, but not having one would go down badly. In the same way, not having BOGOF offers would probably lose custom, but perhaps not doing it on processed foods and instead doing it on fresh foods might be a way round this. Supermarkets could do this tomorrow.

Who Should Government Protect?

Supermarkets are the public face representing corporate responsibility along the whole food supply chain. They have huge economic power, and they have the power to support public health. They could create a food environment that was supportive to health and good nutritional choices. But this is not really their job. It is the job of a responsible government to safeguard the interests of the people by enacting protective legislation. It is not the job of government to encourage damaging activities which ensures that the poorest can only access the worst foods. Government must act to put effective and appropriate measures in place so that the least well off in society can afford sufficient, nutritious food to eat. Backtracking on useful measures and doing nothing about the high cost of eating healthily is a dereliction of duty by the government. Hungry shareholders or hungry children? It’s as stark as that now. Whose side are you really on?

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