Retailers told reducing own brands is creating looming health crisis

The decision by supermarkets to reduce the range of own brand products is threatening the health and lives of already struggling households according to a leading think tank.

Over the past year, major UK supermarkets have cut their numbers of low-cost and basic price-locked food ranges by as many as 100 lines. At the same time, inflation is at a 40-year high and average food prices have increased by almost 10%, according to the UK’s Office for National Statistics.

The International Longevity Centre UK (ILC) has warned that this could be creating a disaster in months to come, as households across the country are already squeezed amid the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.

Reducing access to affordable, nutritious food will not only place added financial pressure on already struggling households but further deepen health inequalities and hamper healthy ageing, the ILC, the UK’s specialist think tank on the impact of longevity on society, added.

Ailsa Forbes, retail impact fellow at ILC, explained: “Nutrition is the building block of health and healthy ageing. As more and more households are struggling to put food on the table, it’s simply unacceptable that access to healthy, no-frills ranges is being cut back.

“We already know the cost-of-living crisis will have long and lasting impacts on people’s finances, it shouldn’t also cost people their health and deepen health inequalities.”

She added: “Supermarkets and other retailers have a responsibility to keep us healthy and support healthy ageing. This isn’t just a nice-to-have, but a need-to-have. By 2040, 63p in every pound could be spent by older households, but we know that poor health is one of the key barriers to spending.

“In this ever-deepening cost of living crisis, we look to supermarkets to re-instate these sustaining food lines, so that people are not denied nutrition, due to cost and lack of choice.”

It comes as Helen Dickinson, CEO of the British Retail Consortium, warned despite their best efforts retailers are having to push the rising costs on to the consumer only making the cost of living crisis more acute.

“Consumers had little respite from the cost of living squeeze as prices rose again in July,” she explained. “Soaring household bills and transport costs remain the biggest headache, holding back discretionary spending across the UK as real incomes continued to fall.

“Retailers are trying to support their customers by expanding value ranges, fixing prices for some essential goods, offering discounted kids meals, and providing discounts for vulnerable groups. However, the sheer weight of costs bearing down on the industry and its supply chains has been proving impossible to fully absorb.

“With inflation showing little sign of slowing, retailers could face a 10% hike in their business rates bill in the coming year. This would impose a cost-nightmare of hundreds of millions of pounds on retailers who are already struggling with razor-thin margins. The next Prime Minister must act, freezing the multiplier to avoid placing a further burden on retailers, and the customers they serve.”