Obesity strategy: thousands of retailers wrongly included in costly proposals, says ACS

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ACS (the Association of Convenience Stores) has called on the Government to rethink its plans to put a £26m cost burden on around 2,000 independent retailers as part of its Obesity Strategy proposals.

The latest iteration of the Government’s Obesity Strategy includes a range of measures aimed at encouraging adults to change their purchasing behaviour, diet and lifestyle, with specific proposals aimed at retailers such as:

·        Restricting where in a store HFSS products can be located, so that retailers would not be able to put these products:

o   Within two metres of a checkout area

o   Within two metres of a designated queueing area

o   In an end of aisle display

o   At the entrance to the store

·        Restricting volume promotions such as multibuys and ‘buy one get one’ promotions for products deemed to be in scope of the high fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) regulations

The current restrictions on locating products include exclusions for businesses with fewer than 50 employees, and for stores that are under 2,000 sq ft. However, the proposals consider symbol groups as in scope of the regulations, treating retailers trading under a symbol fascia as if they were part of a large business.

ACS has estimated that the cost to the convenience sector to comply with the regulations stands at over £90m, of which around £26m will be footed by symbol group retailers that have been wrongly included as large businesses in the proposals.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “While the Government’s intention to exempt small businesses from the proposals is welcome, it has fundamentally misunderstood how symbol group retailers operate by including them in the scope of these new regulations. Symbol group retailers are clearly independent retailers in the way that they make decisions about their business and operate day to day, and are treated as such by other areas of regulation, so it is absolutely imperative that the Government revises its exemption criteria to recognise symbol group retailers as small businesses.”

The Government’s draft exemption on the size of store has also come under fire for being unnecessary small and complicated to enforce. In its submission, ACS has urged the Government to rethink the size exemptions and instead use the widely accepted 3,000 square foot definition of a convenience store.

ACS has written to the Secretaries of State for health, business and environment calling for the exemption to be extended to 3,000sq ft.

Lowman continued: “There is a well-established definition of a convenience store as being under 3,000 sq ft, which already features in other existing regulations. By creating a new arbitrary cut off point at 2000 sq ft, the Government will not only increase costs for thousands of retailers but also create unnecessary problems for enforcement officers who will need to conduct additional research on each store to determine its exact floor space.

“The amount of resource being dedicated to enforcement officers walking around stores with tape measures to determine how far away from the till the crisps are is far too high already. To add in the additional complication of working out whether the store is over or under 2,000 sq ft would push the overall time and cost of enforcement even further.”

ACS’ full response to the consultation is available here.