Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 900-914)



  Q900 Dr Naysmith: It is more than a slight bias. There are figures that show that there is a significant bias.

  Mr Glenn: Let us not argue about the data; let us argue about the trend.

  Q901 Dr Naysmith: If you are badly off then it is a much higher proportion of your diet.

  Mr Glenn: I was just referring specifically to the categories I am responsible for. The general point is important and then it comes down to the importance of education. The other thing that I might add, if I could, is if we refer to things as "unnecessary snacks", and again do not go with the grain of how people are living their lives with lots of mothers working nowadays, the break down of mealtimes, and we look back fondly to a point in time when children said "please" and "thank you" and had three meals a day, it is not like that any more.

  Q902 Dr Naysmith: I understand how society has changed but you spend millions of pounds every year advertising to try to get people to eat this sort of thing. If you did not do that then there would be fewer snacks consumed surely.

  Mr Glenn: I thought we had covered that argument.

  Q903 Dr Naysmith: We covered that earlier but we are coming back to it. It was you who brought us back to it.

  Mr Glenn: Then I have happily served my purpose for this Committee. The fact of the matter is that food and drink advertising as a potential of total advertising has significantly decreased in real terms.

  Q904 Dr Naysmith: I cannot quite hear what you are saying.

  Mr Glenn: Sorry. The fact of the matter is that food and drink advertising as a percentage of total advertising over the last 15 years has decreased in real terms quite significantly. You have to put that bit of data into the understanding of the question, which is if that is the case why has there not—

  Q905 Dr Naysmith: You are saying that advertising has decreased over the last 15 years?

  Mr Glenn: In real terms it has decreased because there are so many more categories advertising. The Government spends £140 million a year; banks advertise more than they ever used to. Yes, as a proportion and the number of impacts, it has decreased.

  Q906 Dr Naysmith: As a proportion that is relative. The amount of advertising has not decreased.

  Mr Glenn: With respect, the relative point is very critical because the consumer's capacity to store and remember messages is pretty finite, so the relative share of voices, as we call them within the industry, is a significant factor. If you just take it as read and it is correct data that the relative impact of food and drink, and within it the kind of categories that we represent, has gone down, then had it been—

  Q907 Dr Naysmith: I am not saying it is the only the reason, obviously people are better off and they have more money to spend on these things, but it must have a significant effect otherwise you guys would not spend so much money on it.

  Mr Glenn: We are commercial businesses and we like to think we spend money for a point. I guess the critical point in markets like ours is it seems to have more of an effect on driving individual brands than it does the total market. It is very difficult to create new demand. Advertisers and marketeers go with the flow of how consumers live their lives.

  Q908 Dr Naysmith: I am not sure about that. I think there is a lot of evidence that you can create new demands.

  Mr Cosslett: I would just like to make one point of clarification so it is on the record. The consumption of confectionery, for what it is worth, completely mirrors the national income groups, and social demographics, and as far as this organisation, this business, is concerned that is not the case.

  Q909 Mr Burstow: Can I pick up Mr Cosslett's point earlier on about we do not have junk foods, we have junk diets and go back to what you were saying to us earlier on in reference to your own concern about a pot of yoghurt that you consumed that was far worse than you were led to believe by the labelling. Do you not think that lesson you draw from that yoghurt pot and what it said to you, and how it misled you, is not something that we should try and make sure is a general lesson that we try and apply to all food products?

  Mr Cosslett: I think misleading claims on labels are wrong and should be dealt with. I think that is the job of the food industry to go and fix. We have been making progress on that as an industry but there are still ways that some people claim fat free this and sugar free that. One of the reasons why we have not been in a rush to do sugar free chocolate is because the actual calorie content stays the same. We are struggling with that issue of how you make it clear what the difference is. We treat it very, very seriously because there are people being deluded on a daily basis about what they are buying and they do not know. That extends to products which are generally healthy, I know, but still have high calorific values.

  Q910 Mr Burstow: Presumably the producer of that yoghurt could be here today and could say there is no such thing as a bad food and that food could be part of a balanced diet.

  Mr Cosslett: Correct.

  Q911 Mr Burstow: If they could say that how could I as a consumer purchasing that product, how could you as a consumer purchasing that product, come to a view as to whether or not it should be one a week, two a week or none a week? How do we make those decisions?

  Mr Cosslett: I think there is a difference in the understanding of product categories. Most people would think of yoghurt as a generally healthier category. The very great majority of people understand that confectionery is a treat and that is a conscious decision. Yoghurt, you would assume, has a certain health profile and when you see a low fat yoghurt with a clear statement drawing attention to the fact it is low fat, you would be doubly convinced and it would reinforce your instinct that this is a `good' product. It is only when you get it home and examine the calories that you find it has got 200-plus calories in it, which was a surprise to me and I have been in the industry for a long time. I do think we need it to be very simple. As we said right at the start, I think some general collective ability to work on better and more simple labelling would be great, but it does not just affect the prepacked industry and packaged food industry, with respect, 40 per cent of the food that is consumed in this country has no labelling on it whatsoever, and that is growing, it is doubling in size every ten years. That is where we could make a very important start. It is difficult because it means you have got to get to the fish and chip shops and you have got to get to the pubs and you have got to get to the burger vans and to Indian restaurants. That is where the food market is expanding rapidly. If you look at the latest Neilson figures, that is Neilson syndicated data for the food industry, I think it shows we have got some really encouraging signs in what people are buying. The sales of fruit and vegetables are up double digits for the last two years. Sales of low fat ready meals are increasing. I think the messages are starting to work, five a day and things like that, but it needs to be a universal approach rather than just taking on the grocery industry.

  Q912 Chairman: On your yoghurt example and the point about simplifying labelling, I agree with what you were saying. We established earlier on this morning that the energy in, energy out issue is crucial. I got the impression, Mr Hilton-Johnson, from your answers that you would need to make the message clearer in relation to calorific content and energy output, etc. How would you feel about some kind of simplified labelling along the lines of high energy dense, medium energy dense, low energy dense, to pick up the point you were making a moment or two that this needs to be simplified and consistent? I accept the point you made that fish and chips would come into it, etc., but how do you feel about something along those lines that would simplify it and make it consistent?

  Mr Glenn: I am all in favour of simplicity but not being overtly simple. From what we have learned about low fat diets over the years, and high fibre diets before that, you can get fat on a low fat diet, you can get fat on a high fibre diet. The risk you run is if you do a traffic light system, which thinking about what you were saying it looked like that, you would get too simplistic a message, that people can over-indulge in anything and get fat. I come back to the common currency that we could do with educating about what is the calorie, give people that information and let them then work out the rest, hopefully within part of a unified approach to education in this area, which is clearly lacking which is why we have got the problem that we have.

  Q913 Chairman: Would that view be the general consensus amongst your colleagues?

  Mr Mobsby: I would say exactly the same thing. The notion of trying to define foods, I am not sure how the consumer can use it. At the end of the day we have got to make this helpful, informative and meaningful for them. For me, calories would be the logical place to go. If we bear in mind that the calorific density of fat is much higher than carbohydrates, if you use calories you are automatically going to be sending some other messages as well that will potentially lead to reorientation. I think calories is a basic good indicator and if we can keep it at something simple like that, which may also transfer across when we think about energy expenditure, so we have got that thing that can work on both sides of the equation, I am far more inclined to believe we would have something simple that people can get to grips with.

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: We are agreed it is complex and there needs to be a simple solution and a consistent solution. Whatever solution is implemented—and calories appears to be as good as any in my mind when dealing with the restaurant sector—the information has to be provided before the point of purchase. It is no good if you find out that your chicken meal or your beef meal contains X amount of calories when it is sitting on the plate in front of you.

  Q914 Dr Naysmith: I wanted to clear up something with Mr Glenn, the suggestion is that there is evidence to suggest that advertising for fast food has increased enormously over the last 10 years, there has been a huge increase in that. The second point is that amongst children's advertising food advertising is dominant and has been for the last five decades—I imagine that is not true in the period up to Christmas, there will be something else taking over children's advertising.

  Mr Glenn: I do not dispute that. We do not categorise ourselves as the fast food industry, our categorisation would be the prepared food industry, and so the two statements can be compatible.

  Chairman: Mr Amess apologises for leaving early, he says if you leave any free samples could you leave him some as well. You have promised to come back with a few points. Thank you very much for your time.

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