I doubt I will be accused of being overly hasty in my campaign against the labelling of cereal products by supermarkets, but that does not mean that my quest has faltered, nor has my zeal lost its edge. I first blogged on this subject at the end of December, and that it has taken me 4 months to plot my second move is something I like to put down to an English predilection for a measured, well-considered response, respect for the other side to give them ample time to deliver their riposte – oh and being a full-time GP with a busy life might have something to do with it.
Nevertheless, I promised to report back the response of the giants in the supermarket world to my humble request to remove the label “Children’s” from its close attachment to certain types of sugary, chocolatey cereals. This on the seemingly reasonable grounds that separating cereals into those suitable for children, and those suitable for adults, is a false dichotomy that sends completely the wrong health message in these times of increasing obesity.
I sent letters to the local managers of both Tesco and Sainsbury’s and am disappointed to say that they scored 0-0 in their response – not a word or a peep or even an automated acknowledgement from either of them. Customer service is not what it used to be! The regional Customer Services offices at least wrote back, and I attach a scanned copy of their letters. Sainsbury’s were non-committal and advised me that they will be considering my comments at their next marketing team meeting – but they have not committed to responding again after this meeting and I am not holding my breath. Tesco gave a fuller report – full of PR babble that had little bearing to my concern. They commented on problems with space on the shelves and not wanting to take anything away from children, when all I am concerned about is the sign coming down from the ceiling. Maybe my letter was confusing and I need to restate my case – or perhaps they prefer not to understand and would rather waffle away my objection than seriously consider it.
Let me be clear. I have no problem with the fact that cereal companies manufacture sugar-coated products – some regulation here to try to keep them healthier is important, but freedom to buy unhealthy food if you so choose is necessary in a liberal democracy. I have no issue with supermarkets stocking them and giving them ample self space. Unlike cigarettes, I have no wish to see them in plain packaging or behind protective screens – they are not that bad for you after all. However, why, oh why, oh why do the supermarkets feel the need to separate them into “Adult” and “Children” categories? Granted, you won’t want to give hard-to-chew lumps to a 7 month old baby, and may prefer to avoid nuts altogether in the under 3’s, but with these minor exceptions there is no reason why an adult should not choose Frosties for breakfast, or a child prefer Shredded Wheat – or am I missing some vital nutritional understanding here?
So I shall write again, and enclose photographic evidence this time to make my point clearer. And my MP happens to be Anne Milton, Health Minister – I think a letter to her might not go amiss either. Once more into the breach…