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Sam Tidmarsh 

UKHospitality CEO urges Government to reconsider HFSS advertising ban

UKHospitality CEO urges Government to reconsider HFSS advertising ban

UKHospitality CEO Kate Nicholls OBE has accused the Government of not ‘hearing and understanding’ the sector’s concerns over the proposed ban on advertising high fat, salt and sugary (HFSS) food products.

Speaking to a sympathetic Advertising Association CEO, Stephen Woodford at Reset 2021 this morning, Nicholls described it as ‘odd to say the least’ that the Government was determined to press ahead with the HFSS advertising ban when those companies that would be most affected had already lost 50-60% of sales, due to Covid-19, leading to a “crisis of survivability”.

She said: “To think about tackling something as important as this, which would have a major operational impact when we come out the other side [of the pandemic], and at a time when the [hospitality] industry is closed, and the public health agenda is focused on rightly tackling a pandemic, it seems odd to say the least.

"We were the first into restrictions, we were the first impacted by the virus and we will be the last out. The Government is well aware that this is an industry that is in a very fragile state.”

The frank interview came directly after an opening keynote by secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, Oliver Dowden, reiterating the Government’s plan to press-on with the advertising ban.

In July, advertising trade bodies The AA, ISBA, IAB and IPA deemed the proposed HFSS advertising ban “misguided, unfounded, ineffective”.

The bodies noted the damaging consequences the ban will have on media owners and advertisers as they attempt to recover from the business impact of the coronavirus crisis, as well as evidence that suggests ad bans have little to no impact on calorie consumption.

Government proposals include banning all advertising of 'unhealthy' foods before 9pm, across both TV and online, a consultation on whether to end online HFSS ads altogether, and a possible ban on "buy one, get one free" deals on HFSS foods.

Other restrictions may include where such foods can be promoted in-store and new rules for displaying calories on menus.

Nicholls said that while promotional activity is key to driving consumer interest, the proposed ban would leave hospitality SMEs unable to, “work through what they would and would not be allowed to advertise, effectively cutting off online communication and marketing channels”.

According to Nicholls, although some hospitality businesses have invested heavily in social media over the lockdown, which has helped to boost areas such as home delivery, the new rules would restrict the use of promotional images for foods, thus hampering the effectiveness of social media marketing.

Nicholls instead called on the Government to tackle obesity through a programme of education, explaining that it was important “to equip people with the information to make positive, well-informed choices about their health, nutrition and their eating.”

She said: “The HFSS ban is a very blunt instrument that bans advertising, communications and marketing without addressing the root cause of the problem, which is education,” said Nicholls. “Instead, an education programme will allow people to “adopt good practices of nutrition, which then helps to inform them to make informed decisions about what they are going to eat.

“Working together across the advertising agencies and advertising associations, as well as the brand owners and marketers, we could really help the Government drive forward a dynamic programme of public education and information to really make a difference.”

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