Boris Johnson has said he wants to help struggling families “save on their food bills” by delaying a promised ban on buy one get one free promotions on junk foods until 2023.
Despite the government’s U-turn, both Tesco and Sainsbury’s have now committed to the original October deadline for the ban, and vowed to offer more discounts on healthier products.
Jamie Oliver has led protests outside Downing Street after a promise to axe multi-buy promotions on food high in fat, sugar or salt was pushed back to next October.
The prime minister, speaking to broadcasters during a visit to in Wales, said: “There are some things at the moment where we think they make very little difference to obesity.”
Mr Johnson added: “They can affect people’s weekly outgoings, people’s budgets, and at this particular time – if people can save on their food bills with some offers – then I think we’ve just got to be flexible while continuing to tackle obesity.”
The prime minister insisted the government was sticking by its anti-obesity drive, saying: “We understand the vital importance of tackling obesity, it costs the NHS huge sums of money.”
Tesco said it will remove multi-buy promotions food which are high in fat, sugar or salt (HFSS products) by the end of October.
Tesco chief customers officer Alessandra Bellini said: “Obesity levels are rising among adults and children, and the health of our nation must also be at the top of our agenda.”
Sainsbury’s said it has already axed multi-buy offers after changing its promotion strategy six years ago. It stressed it will continue to push forward with curbs on unhealthy products despite changes to the government’s original proposals.
“We know our customers in communities across the country are facing a cost of living crisis and want to continue to provide healthy, nutritious food for their families,” Mark Given, chief marketing officer at supermarket, said.
Meanwhile, Mr Oliver presented an Eton mess outside Downing Street as the celebrity chef protested the government U-turn. He hailed the actions of supermarkets to follow the originally planned policy.
“They’ve set the tone and I’m sure others will follow,” Mr Oliver said. “We want to put child health first, the strategy was looking world class and now it doesn’t.”
He added: “It’s our job to put it all back together again and make sure that we can build a better future for our kids.”
Mr Johnson said on Friday that he cannot “magic away” all the soaring food and energy expenses as he comes under increasing pressure to alleviate the cost of living crisis.
Yet he also promised to use the “firepower” of government to “put our arms around people” as it did during the Covid pandemic.
One measure believed to be under serious consideration is a windfall tax on the soaring profits of oil and gas giants. But Jacob Rees-Mogg, the minister for Brexit Opportunities, set out fresh opposition from within the cabinet as he argued it is wrong to raid the “honey pot”.