Nick Shanagher discusses why retailers need to pay attention to Health Warnings

Betty McBride, policy and communication director of the British Heart Foundation, has written to the FT today to attack the food industry for its objections to traffic lights labels appearing on food. Shopkeepers need to watch this pressure for regulation closely.

She was responding to an FT column which highlighted discussions in Brussels over what a portion was: one biscuit or three. It depends, the industry suggests. Ms McBride disagrees and is happy to define “realistic portions”.

Independent convenience retail“Independent research has shown that a combination of traffic light colours, guideline daily amounts, and the words high, medium and low would be the best way to give shoppers the at-a-glance information they want,” she writes in support of labelling.

The industry, she suggests, desires to “deliberately confuse people about how unhealthy some of its products are.”

The danger of her words is real. For example, in Scotland, the government has suggested it might remove confectionery displays from hotspots in local shops, such as the counter. In London, one local authority has banned new food-to-go outlets from near schools and claims this has cut obesity.

As a local shopkeeper you need to take part in the healthy food debate. Your shop is an easy targets for health campaigners, particularly as some local shopkeepers are poor and some are dishonest and people who don’t know you will find it hard to tell you apart.

As independent operators it is difficult to establish the standards that need to apply to all shops. But not impossible. You have to take part in trade association discussion groups and through social media in setting out to local people what good shops look like, what they do and why they should be valued. Shoppers then need to know how to tell the difference between a responsible retailer and one they should not support.

Steve Denham, on a related subject, tells retailers that concerned parents upset by the risk of risque magazine covers being seen by their children should simply have a word with the local retailer, rather than pressing for regulation. That is a world view you need to support.