Businesses Brace for Regulations as Health Policy Takes Centre Stage

By Edward Ingram

Wednesday 21st February

Since the Tories first entered office 14 years ago, the party has slowly but surely moved in on what is traditionally Labour’s territory of interventionist health policy. Through a combination of taxation and regulations to limit the consumption of products which are high in saturated fat, salt, and/or sugar, more commonly referred to as HFSS products.  

The former Chancellor George Osborne’s sugar tax is perhaps the most notable example, pushing drinks manufacturers to reduce the amount of added sugar in their products to avoid getting saddled with an additional tax bill. More recently however, we’ve seen the introduction of HFSS regulations which restrict the positioning of unhealthy food and beverages in supermarkets, such as chocolate, sweets, and crisps. In 2025 these restrictions will expand to prohibit popular multibuy offers, such as ‘Buy One Get One Free’ and ‘Buy 3 for 2’.  

In political terms, the Conservatives have parked their tanks firmly on Labour’s lawn. This has perhaps inspired the rather bullish response from the Shadow Health Secretary recently with his pledge that Labour would “steamroll” the food industry into promoting healthier options to tackle the obesity crisis. Fresh restrictions on advertising and packaging have also been considered alongside a proposed ban on energy drinks sales to under 16s.  

In this crucial area of health policy (1 in 4 adults and 1 in 5 children are currently obese) the Conservatives appear to be happy to act against their traditional instincts, giving Labour the space to follow suit with its own raft of proposed policies. What we’re left with then is an arms race between the two parties which shows little sign of slowing down and may even escalate further by spilling over into other policy areas. 

But what does this mean for food and drink policy in the UK? Well, it’s arguably a reflection of two new political realities. First, that in order to secure the long-term sustainability of the health service, the Government urgently needs to get a grip on rates of obesity which are not improving. It may be a blunt tool, but the major parties have rightly or wrongly concluded that interventionist public health policies are an effective way of tackling the root of the problem.  

Second, the political consensus on interventionist policies which restrict and influence what we eat and drink has clearly shifted and is not where it once was before the Tories took office. The Prime Minister’s commitment to create a ‘smoke-free’ generation, in addition to banning disposable vapes and certain vape flavours, underlines this further.  

A Conservative Prime Minister at risk of electoral wipe out simply wouldn’t risk these heavy-handed interventions if he or she suspected that it would be unpopular with voters. Sunak has calculated that people generally accept that we must all lead healthier lives to support the health service. Where this support ends however is when health policies end up pushing up the cost of a weekly shop, a trip to the pub, or even a cheeky takeaway.  

Labour, it seems, also understands this. The Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting’s recent pledges notably did not incur any extra financial burdens on households, mostly because that would be unpopular, but also to maintain the party’s painstakingly crafted pro-growth narrative.  

From a financial perspective, this is good news for households and consumers. But what does this mean for businesses?  

We are witnessing the opening salvos of a new arms race between the Tories and Labour regarding the role of the state in managing the nation’s health. This has serious ramifications for the food and drink sector, with well-founded concerns that this overreach could escalate yet further and start to impact businesses beyond the FMCG sector. 

Advertising restrictions on fast food companies have already been mooted, but what is to stop either party extending these types of regulations to other sectors which are deemed to be undermining the resilience of our public services and public finances?  

As appealing as it may seem, outright opposition to this new political consensus is not an effective strategy. Businesses need to understand the politics at play and go with the grain of the policy development, working with policymakers by showcasing the proactive work their respective sectors are already undertaking in the absence of regulations and legislation.  

At the same time, it is important to celebrate the benefits that food and drinks products bring to consumers and the economy. From supporting hospitality venues, to simply making people happy, food and drink and other FMCG businesses need to be unashamedly vocal about the benefits of their products and consumers’ rights to enjoy them.  

The policy trajectory we are currently on by no means indicates that FMCG businesses are about to be regulated and taxed out of existence. However, businesses must ramp up the proactive engagement if they want to prevent this new arms race escalating further.  


At Pagefield, we understand the world of Westminster and Whitehall – we are specialists in Public & Regulatory Affairs with a long-history of supporting clients with tricky regulatory and policy issues. If you want to talk to us about how we can help you to engage UK political parties ahead of the General Election, please get in touch via

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