The boss of one of the UK’s biggest food firms is calling for higher taxes on salty, fatty and sugary foods.
Food producers had not “shown enough appetite to change”. Said James Mayer, who runs Danone in the UK and Irish Republic.
The French firm best known for its yoghurt brands. But also owns bottled water brands Evian and Volvic.
He said only 10% of Danone’s own products would affected by what have dubbed “sin” taxes.
“The UK food industry’s efforts to improve the health profile of its products have not moved fast enough.”
Mr Mayer said in comments first shared with the Observer newspaper.
He said it was time for “meaningful intervention” by the government.
“We see this as the only way industry as a whole will incentivised to move towards healthier, more sustainable products over the often cheaper but unhealthy alternatives,” Mr Mayer said.
Higher taxes on food products
The UK introduced a “sugar tax” on soft drinks in 2018. But has rejected more recent proposals to put extra taxes on other unhealthy products. As, relying instead on manufacturers to engage with voluntary programmes to reduce salt, fat and sugar.
The steep rise in the cost of food over the last year makes it a difficult time to argue for higher taxes.
But Mr Mayer said the new approach should include restrictions on advertising as well as “looking at how VAT rates can aligned to the health credentials of products”.
Currently VAT, a sales tax, is not charged on most food products, but the standard 20% VAT rate applied to alcoholic drinks, confectionery, many crisps and savoury snacks, ice cream and soft drinks.
Mineral water, which makes up a significant part of Danone’s product portfolio, is also subject to VAT.
The food industry has previously lobbied against additional taxes, arguing it would push up prices. However campaigners in favour of the strategy argue that tax revenues could used to promote healthier eating patterns.
Firm Action by government
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the government had taken “firm action” to tackle unhealthy foods, and would continue to work closely with industry.
“Our sugar reduction programme has delivered dramatic reductions in the amount of sugar in foods eaten by children – including a 14.9% decrease in the sugar content of breakfast cereals and a 13.5% reduction in the sugar content of yogurts and fromage frais,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
The government introduced restrictions late last year on where unhealthy foods can displayed in shops, but delayed new limits on “volume” offers such as buy-one-get-one-free, until autumn this year.
A ban on TV advertising of junk food before 21:00 has pushed back to October 2025 to give the industry more time to prepare for the restrictions.
Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of the Leon fast-food chain, appointed as the government’s healthy eating “tsar”, resigned earlier this year, criticising the lack of progress.