UK food censors are whingeing about people's 'Meal Deals' because they claim the promotion will diminish the effectiveness of the
government's new nanny tax on sugary drinks.
Carol Williams, Principal Lecturer: Health Promotion and Public Health, University of Brighton explains:
From April, the UK government's sugar tax will make 500ml bottles of high-sugar drinks cost an extra 14p, and two litre bottles an extra 58p. The higher price is intended to steer people towards choosing lower-sugar drinks. But promotions, such as
meal deals, could make the sugar tax meaningless by negating the price difference.
The drinks industry says the size and scale of the sugar-tax bill is too much for them to absorb, so they will pass the cost on to retailers. Retailers are likely to do the same and pass the cost onto consumers. This is what Public Health England
intended; high-sugar drinks should cost more to make them less attractive to buy. But the tax may have an unintended consequence on drinks purchased in meal deals, which typically include a sandwich, a snack and a drink.
Our research with students (aged 16-19 and 19-24) found that they decided what to buy in a meal deal based on price and getting a bargain. Students tend to choose the most expensive drink in order to maximise the cost benefit of the deal, even
though they are often aware of the health aspects. When the sugar tax comes into force and full-sugar drinks cost more, this may create a perverse incentive because choosing the more expensive drink will increase the relative discount/cost
effectiveness achieved by buying a meal deal.
Now it is over to retailers and other drinks outlets to act in the spirit of the sugar tax by passing the higher price on to consumers and keeping a price difference between high- and low-sugar drinks. For meal deals, there are three options: add
the sugar tax to the price of the meal deal when a full-sugar drink is chosen, take sugary drinks that are taxed out of the meal deal, or do nothing and risk encouraging people to choose the full-sugar version, undermining everything PHE is trying