Kellogg’s legal loss against UK obesity strategy could prove costly to consumers

UK—Kellogg Company has lost its High Court challenge against the UK government’s HFSS rules, the verdict is expected to cost the company millions of pounds in lost sales and result in potentially higher prices for consumers.

The new HFSS rules, due to be introduced in October 2023, which Kellogg first challenged in April, would stop some of the company’s breakfast cereals being displayed prominently in grocery stores because of their high sugar content.

According to the government, the rules are part of its strategy to tackle childhood obesity. When they go into effect, restrictions will be introduced on the promotion, in supermarkets and online, of food which is classified as high in fat, sugar or salt.

However, the company claimed the rules did not take into account that breakfast cereal is normally served with milk, providing added nutritional value.

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In his judgement, Justice Linden ruled the addition of milk to a breakfast cereal does not skew the fact that it contains excess fat, sugar or salt.

In the court ruling, Judge Linden said: “The argument that there are nutritional benefits to the consumption of a given breakfast cereal does not affect the point that if it contains excess fat, sugar or salt, that feature of the product is adverse to a child’s health.

Nor does mixing a breakfast cereal which is high in, for example, sugar, with milk alter the fact that it is high in sugar.”

Mr Justice Linden noted that 54.7% of Kellogg’s current cereals will be classed as less healthy under the new regulations, while 30% of them take advantage of high-profile locations and promotions.

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Placement of HFSS foods at checkouts, shop entrances, aisle ends and prime online spots, along with multi-buy promotions will be banned when the law goes into effect.

Kellogg’s UK’s revenue and channel director previously estimated that 2.5 million kilogrammes of sales will be lost as a result of restrictions on these location promotions – counting for approximately US$6.1 million in annual profits, the judge said.

Despite the verdict, Kellogg says it is taking efforts to address the health issues in cereal, noting the company has removed 11,000 tons of sugar since 2011, including a 50% reduction in Coco Pops.

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Chris Silcock, Kellogg UK’s MD, said the company was “disappointed” in the verdict and sticks to its argument.

“We remain concerned at the way the government introduced these regulations – which, in our view, was without proper parliamentary scrutiny,” said Chris Silcock, Kellogg UK’s managing director.

While still insisting that it is important that cereals are measured in a way that reflects how most people eat them – with milk – Silcock said the company does not intent to appeal the court’s judgement, but urged the government to rethink the new rules which could prove costly for the consumer.

“By restricting the placement of items in supermarkets, people face less choice and potentially higher prices. That’s why, in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, we would strongly urge the government to rethink these regulations and put the consumer first,” he said.

This isn’t the first time the Kellogg’s brand has been in a legal battle over its nutritional profile. In 2018, the maker of Coco Pops overturned a junk food advert ban through lobbying against a decision by the UK’s advertising regulator, which outraged obesity campaigners.

In August 2018, the Advertising Standards Authority banned a Kellogg’s TV ad campaign for a Coco Pops granola product for breaking protocol against advertising junk food to minors.

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