17 January 2024
41% of price promotions and one in four multibuy offers are on unhealthy food and drink
41% of price promotions and one in four (27.5%) multibuy offers across major retailers are on unhealthy food and drink
A new report from The Food Foundation has found that:
- 41% of price promotions are on food and drinks high in fat, salt and/or sugar (HFSS) – well over a third of all offers
- Over a quarter (27.5%) of multibuy offers are on HFSS food and drink
The report, published today by The Food Foundation, in partnership with Questionmark, as part of its Kid’s Food Guarantee, is part of an ongoing programme of work monitoring the costs of healthy foods that are key elements of children’s diets and calling on supermarkets to ensure healthier products are affordable and available for parents who may be struggling with the cost of living crisis.
The Kids Food Guarantee has looked at price promotions across the five largest UK retailers; Aldi, Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco for the first time, finding that 41% of price promotions are on HFSS food and drinks – well over a third of all offers.
Price promotions are retail promotions that offer discounted pricing on selected products for a temporary period of time. This includes offers such as ‘reduced from £4.50 to £4’ or discount pricing offered as part of loyalty card schemes.
Food Foundation analysis found that very few price promotions are on healthier foods. Just 3.3% are on fruit and veg and only 3.9% of offers are on staple carbohydrates (like bread and pasta).
Government regulations on HFSS products have so far focused on where products are placed in stores and on limiting multibuys, though this second measure has been pushed down the line to October 2025.
The report, however, shows that a very high proportion of promotions are temporary price promotions (61% of all price and multi-buy promotions). Government and retailers therefore should look at both price promotions and multi-buys when aiming to shift sales towards healthier foods.
The Kids Food Guarantee has been monitoring and reporting on prevalence of multibuy offers on healthy vs. unhealthy products since April 2023.
Multibuy offers are typically ‘buy one get one free’ (‘BOGOF’) or 3-for-2 deals, and are promotions on food and drink items that allow a greater volume of the item in question to be purchased for a set price. This latest update finds that retailers have taken little action to place deals on staple carbohydrates or fruit and vegetables.
There has, in fact, been a slight decrease in the proportion of multibuys on fruit and vegetables (from 4.5% in July to 4.1% in August) and in offers on staple carbohydrates (from 4.2% in July to 3% in August).
With government regulation on HFSS multibuys postponed, retailers are continuing to focus their promotional spend on HFSS food and drinks, with over a quarter (27.5%) of multibuy offers on HFSS food and drink in August.
This has barely changed since July when 27.3% of multibuy offers were on HFSS food and drink, and is similar to April’s findings, when 29% of multibuy offers were on HFSS food and drink.
The higher price of healthier calories relative to less healthy calories means it is already more challenging for citizens struggling with the cost of living to afford a healthy diet, especially those from low income groups.
The current distribution of price promotions and multibuys do not help with the affordability of basic, staple, nutritious foods.
Despite food inflation having slowed in recent months, The Food Foundation’s Basic Basket tracker shows that a weekly nutritious food shop remains high.
The Food Foundation would like those retailers who offer multibuys and price promotions to ensure that these deals are on staple foods that contribute to a healthy diet rather than on discretionary foods, provided that any cost savings aren’t simply pushed back onto growers and producers.
For example, promotions could support families to buy staple carbohydrates such as bread and rice, as well as fruit and veg, milk and eggs.
Both government and retailers ought to look at what can be done to ensure such deals are on healthier food and drink as part of efforts to shift sales towards healthier foods.
The majority of UK retailers now report on and have targets in place to achieve a higher proportion of healthier sales. Promotional spend will need to align with these targets if they are to be met.
Rebecca Tobi, Senior Business and Investor Manager, at The Food Foundation, said: "We would urge the government to reconsider their delay of the planned restriction on HFSS multibuy promotions.
"HFSS multibuy promotion restrictions already have the necessary legislation in place to be swiftly implemented and yet they have been delayed until 2025.
"With food price inflation remaining at much higher levels than general inflation we know that many families are still struggling to afford healthy essentials.
"The government and retailers need to do much more to shift price and multibuy promotions to non HFSS, healthier foods.
"Ensuring more promotions are on healthier foods would also alleviate concerns that any restrictions on food promotions will increase prices for consumers."
NOTES TO EDITOR
Please contact: Juliet Grant on 07929075489 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEW
Rebecca Tobi, Senior Business and Investor Manager at The Food Foundation
The Food Foundation Podcast
For more in-depth analysis and lived experience listen to our podcast
THE KIDS FOOD GUARANTEE
The Kid’s Food Guarantee is a set of actions which we think supermarkets should have in place as a minimum if we are to effectively tackle rising levels of food insecurity. These are actions that citizens have told us they are eager to see, and which align with existing areas of focus for food retailers.
ABOUT THE FOOD FOUNDATION
The Food Foundation is a charity working to influence food policy and business practice, shaping a sustainable food system which makes healthy diets affordable and accessible for all. We work in partnership with researchers, campaigners, community bodies, industry, investors, government and citizens to galvanise the UK’s diverse agents of change, using surprising and inventive ideas to drive fundamental shifts in our food system. These efforts are based on the continual re-evaluation of opportunities for action, building and synthesising strong evidence, convening powerful coalitions, harnessing citizens’ voices and delivering impactful communications.
Registered Charity Number 1187611.
For this Guarantee area The Food Foundation worked with the Questionmark Foundation, an international non-profit think tank working for a healthy, sustainable, just and animal friendly food system.
ABOUT THE FOOD FOUNDATION’S BASIC BASKET
The Food Foundation's Basic Basket is a shopping basket tracker to measure weekly price changes in what the average man and woman could typically eat as part of a reasonably costed, adequately nutritious diet (see FAQs for further details). We have been tracking the cost of the Basic Basket since April 2022. Since then, the woman’s basket of food has increased in price by 23.9%, now costing £50.76 per week. The male basket has increased by 27.5% (non-clubcard price) and currently costs £55.49 per week.
To monitor this Guarantee area we worked with Questionmark Foundation, an international non-profit think tank, to look at what type of foods are included as part of multibuy and price promotion deals. For multibuys, data was collected for the period 22nd – 25th August 2023 and compared to data collected between 18th and 24th April and 19th to 26th July 2023. For price promotions, data was collected for the period 22nd- 25th August 2023 only.
We looked at food promotions available across the five largest UK retailers; Aldi, Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco. Multibuy deals in scope were volume promotions, for example “buy one get one free” (BOGOF) deals where customers benefit if more than one item (of the same) product is bought. Price promotions in scope were offers that discounted prices compared to an original price or discounted prices as part of customer loyalty schemes (e.g. Clubcard price). We excluded those offers involving points for future redemption (e.g. 200 bonus nectar points).
We looked at whether both price and volume promotions were on High Fat, Salt, Sugar (HFSS) foods, staple carbohydrate products1, and other healthy essentials such as fruit and veg. We used the Government’s Nutrition Profiling Model to assess the healthiness of offers, which uses a wider, more rigorous definition of HFSS compared to the definition used in the guidance for restricting location-based promotion of HFSS food and drink. Using these criteria foods scoring 4 or more points and drinks scoring 1 or more points are classified as high in sugar, salt and/or fat (HFSS).
For further details on the methodology used in the Kid’s Food Guarantee and our inclusion and exclusion criteria read our technical report.