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Updated: 27 May 2022

Tesco and Sainsbury's to drop junk food multibuy deals - what this means for you

The supermarkets will voluntarily drop deals on high in fat, salt, and sugar products amid a government U-turn on an outright ban
Which? salted crisps taste test

Tesco and Sainsbury's have said they will ditch multibuy deals on junk food later this year, despite a recent government U-turn on bringing in a ban.

The government had been due to restrict the advertising and promotion of multibuy deals on foods high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) this year, but announced earlier this month it had delayed the plans because of the cost of living crisis.

In England, almost two thirds of adults and one third of children leaving primary school are classed as overweight or obese, and for years health experts (including Which?) have been calling on the government to restrict cheap junk food deals, which are often prominently placed in stores.

The planned restrictions were part of the government's obesity strategy, announced in 2020. They were due to come into force in October, but will now be delayed until at least October 2023.

The aim was to encourage retailers to offer better deals on healthier foods, like fresh fruit and veg, rather than 'buy one get one free' and ‘three for two’ deals on crisps, chocolate, biscuits and fizzy drinks.

Cost of living help - tips and advice to beat price rises and get the best deals

Obesity vs the rising cost of living

Chocolate bars on a supermarket shelf

As energy and food prices soar, many are experiencing an unprecedented squeeze on household income, which is why the government says it has delayed the ban.

Critics of the ban, including the industry-funded Food and Drink Federation, say it is unfair to limit deals because doing so will only add to the burden of rising food prices. 

But a raft of experts and charities have slammed the decision to delay action, saying the government has 'thrown away' an opportunity to protect children's health. 

The charity Food Foundation said junk food promotions were a 'false economy.'

'81% of people told us [when surveyed] that they would like to see promotions on fruit and veg, dairy, pasta and rice, rather than junk food – promotions that would actually help save people money on their core food shop,' said Isabel Hughes, the charity's policy engagement manager.

Tesco and Sainsbury's plan to offer healthier deals

Tesco and Sainsbury's said they will press ahead with the plan to curb HFSS deals from October this year, while investing in healthier choices instead.

Tesco's Chief Customer Officer, Alessandra Bellini, said Tesco would balance offering healthy choices with keeping food affordable:

'We will always make sure our products are competitively priced. But we can’t stop there. Obesity levels are rising among adults and children and the health of our nation must also be at the top of our agenda.'

Sainsbury's, too, pledged to ditch unhealthy deals and urged other supermarkets to follow suit. 

'We are committed to continuing to follow the government’s original HFSS promotional timelines and call on the rest of the industry to do the same,' a spokesperson told us. 

'Sainsbury’s is dedicated to making healthy choices more affordable.' 

 To see which supermarket is the cheapest in 2022, read our grocery price guide.

What are the other big supermarkets doing?

We asked the other supermarkets about their plans, and this is what they told us:

  • Asda has so far remained tight-lipped
  • Co-op told us it would continue to sell HFSS foods on promotion, adding it would 'comply with all the relevant HFSS regulations in line with the government’s timescales.'
  • Morrisons said that to ease pressure on the weekly shop, it would continue with HFSS promotions. 'The government will continue to permit multi-buy deals in light of the cost of living crisis and our approach will reflect this,' the supermarket told us.
  • M&S told us it had been moving away from these types of promotion for some time anyway. It said the change in government timing would have little affect, as the rules apply to 'so few' products.
  • Waitrose said it was focusing on reformulating products and offering healthier ranges.  'We'll be reducing multi-buy promotions on HFSS products over the year ahead. In these tough times, we're listening to our customers to ensure we offer the promotions that most appeal to them across all of our ranges,' the supermarket said.

Aldi and Lidl don't offer these type of promotions so haven't commented.

Best cheap supermarket food and drink - see which own-label heroes triumphed in our taste tests

How will deal changes affect the cost of your weekly shop?

Woman puts a pizza in the oven

If you shop at Tesco or Sainsbury's, and you regularly buy sugary or salty snacks on offer, then you'll likely see fewer deals on these types of products from October, and within the next year you can expect less HFSS deals if you shop at Waitrose too.

All three of these supermarkets told us they are investing more in healthier options instead.

If you shop at Morrisons or Co-op, you can expect them to continue to offer promotions on HFSS deals.

Whether or not your weekly basket will be impacted by a drop in HFSS deals really depends on what you put in it. But there are bigger factors at play pushing up food prices.

Last week we revealed supermarket price rises of up to 20% on hundreds of popular items are putting increasing pressure on household budgets. Find out more about what's pushing prices up and which foods are most affected in the full food inflation story - plus read our grocery price guide for tips on how to beat price rises.