Confectionery escapes UK tax calls, but marketing practices probed

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

Confectionery escapes brunt of added sugar condemnation from UK medical profession, but kids marketing practices questioned
Confectionery escapes brunt of added sugar condemnation from UK medical profession, but kids marketing practices questioned

Related tags Public health Nutrition World health organization Saturated fat

The British Medical Association (BMA) is pushing for a tax on sugary drinks rather than confectionery, but has urged voluntary added sugar reduction targets for confectioners and a crackdown on confectionery marketing to children.

The BMA’s recently published ‘Food for Thought’ report​ called for a tax on all sugar-sweetened beverages to increase the price by at least 20%.

The body did not urge a similar tax on confectionery, but did press for more stringent measures on confectioners and other manufacturers of ‘unhealthy foods’ to reduce calorie, fat, saturated fat and added sugar levels. It also recommended further restrictions on marketing confectionery and other food categories, particularly to younger children.

Confectionery marketing spend tops public health initiatives

“Vast amounts of money are spent on advertising unhealthy food and drink products; which sits in stark contrast to government expenditure on public health communications,”​ said the report.

According to the Public Health England, the UK government’s public health marketing initiative Change4Life has an annual budget of £10m ($16m) while £92m ($143m) is spent yearly on marketing chocolate bars and biscuits.

A 2014 study​ found of around 750 TV ads found one in four were advertising foods - with chocolate and candy companies the third most common type of food ad.

The UK’s TV ad watchdog Ofcom has already banned TV ads​ for all products high in fat, salt or sugar during programs that appeal to children under 16.

Licensed kids characters

haribo minions
Confectioners seal licensing deals with popular family movies such as Despicable Me Minions.

The BMA has urged advertising authorities to go further on marketing in non-broadcast media including the use of licensed characters and celebrity endorsements that appeal to children.

Major confectioners such as Nestlé and Mondelēz have strict policies on advertising to children, yet many confectionery companies have released products tied to children’s movies. For example, Ferrero, Haribo and Just Born have this year all launched products featuring Despicable Me Minions under license. Other firms such as Kinnerton Confectionery, Bon Bon Buddies and Dexter’s Confectionery have licenses to produce candy featuring characters from franchises like Star Wars, Barbie and Disney.

A 2006 systematic review​ for the World Health Organization found young people around the world had extensive recall of food and drink advertising with ads on chocolate and sugar confectionery proving the most popular.

Added sugar targets

BMA urges added sugar reduction targets for:

  • Sugary soft drinks with added sugar
  • Chocolate and chocolate confectionery
  • Biscuits
  • Cakes
  • Pies and pastries
  • Dairy products
  • Sausages
  • Savory snacks
  • Chips and fried and roast potatoes

BMA has called for voluntary targets on reducing added sugar calories, fat and saturated fat by 2020 for categories including soft drinks, chocolate and biscuits and wants regulatory measures if targets are not met.

The UK's Public Health Responsibility Deal​ includes a calorie reduction pledge, but there is no pledge to specifically cut added sugar.

Under the UK government’s Responsibility Deal, manufacturers, including major confectioners such as Mondelez and Mars, have committed to a 250 calorie cap​ on single-serve chocolate confectionery.

“The main concerns related to these commitments are the lack of targets covering specific food and drink product categories, or a defined timescale for action,”​ said the BMA.

“Apart from updates provided by individual companies, there is also no clear evaluation of the progress being made nationally.”

Consumer group Which? has also previously criticized companies for taking action on lesser-known products and neglecting flagship brands.

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