Marketing to children

As restrictions on tobacco and alcohol merchandising tighten, the drive to reduce children's consumption of products deemed harmful to their health is expected to move on to new categories.

We could debate all day whether removing temptation from children's eyes at the point of sale is an effective or even sensible way to tackle the problems of underage consumption and obesity many retailers would say education, dietary advice, promotion of physical activity and parental example are more powerful deterrents. They know stores merely react to demand; they don't stock anything that the public doesn't want.

High-calorie and high-fat products will be targets on the health lobby agenda in the next year or so. Proposals have already been tabled in Scotland, where 15% of children are classed as obese, to restrict sales of these items in stores near schools, and to remove confectionery from the till area. The Scottish Retail Consortium has pointed out that retailers already help customers to choose balanced diets without the need for regulation an argument that's likely to be repeated throughout the UK as the issue gains prominence.

The industry can also point to the rollout of the Department of Health's Change4Life programme as an example of its willingness to provide fresh fruit and veg as a healthy option in local stores.

The massive surge in popularity of energy drinks and energy shots in the past few years raises concerns among health lobbyists who suggest those containing ingredients such as caffeine and taurine should be banned because of the potential effects of over-indulging. Responsible suppliers give on-pack advice on limiting consumption and restricting sales to children, but if this is deemed insufficient legislation could follow, as has already been discussed in other European countries.

Combinations of energy drinks and alcohol could be first to face a ban and if caffeine is identified as the troublesome ingredient, there could be implications for coffee sales to children as well.

It's not only food that faces restriction. A Home Office-backed report last month called for magazines and newspapers with 'sexually explicit' covers to be stocked out of a child's eyeline presumably anywhere from ground level to six feet with age restrictions on their sale. One MP has already invited his constituents to nominate "family friendly" newsagents, giving a vocal minority the power to dictate the contents of your shelves. Unless the publishers change tack, retailers will be forced to adapt.


Climate change, global warming, carbon emissions; whatever the context, the need to preserve limited resources will increasingly have an impact on the retail sector. The spectacular reduction in the use of single-use plastic carrier bags, the result of a voluntary collaboration of retailers and consumers, isn't enough for the Welsh Assembly, which is pushing through a compulsory charge. It's not beyond possibility that this could be adopted elsewhere, although the levy is likely to contribute to local environmental causes rather than the Exchequer.

Packaging is also drawing attention. Perhaps more of an issue for suppliers than retailers, the next decade will see a move to sustainable packaging with reduced weight and volume, designed-in recyclability, a lower carbon footprint and longer shelf life. Stores will, however, be affected by legislation which raises the cost of removing waste, such as this month's rise in landfill tax rates.

Then there's refrigeration. C-stores' need to devote more and more space to fresh, chilled and frozen to meet consumer demand is unfortunate as the refrigeration industry is under scrutiny for its poor environmental record. Chillers suck up power and stores already pay dearly for that but in addition the gases that provide the cold are notorious for their high global warming effect if they leak, which they often do. Suppliers now have to pay to safely dispose of end-of-life equipment and you can be sure they will pass that cost on.

Expect to hear suggestions of a refrigeration tax within the next few years and also anticipate having to budget for replacing or re-manufacturing your chilled display cabinets as the refrigerants within them are outlawed. Chilling thoughts, both.

Business costs

Labour is continuing to stick to its commitment to five consecutive years of rises in the National Minimum Wage the latest, announced last month, brought the adult rate to £5.93. The 2.2% rise was rather more than a lot of employees working in retail will have received this year.

Increasing NMW encourages people to work and rewards them for it, but punishes the small businesses who must fund the rise. Balancing the budget can mean reducing staff numbers or cutting their hours, and therefore the exact opposite effect to the one intended by the government.

No wonder the British Retail Consortium has called the latest rise "sheer madness" and the Association of Convenience Stores branded it "ill judged and mistimed". The Tories say they'll revisit Chancellor Darling's last Budget within weeks of coming to power. They stop short of promising a reduction, but a freeze at the current rate might be in their thoughts.

The Conservatives' response to Darling's 1% increase in National Insurance contributions appears is to limit the rise to incomes over £35,000, although as the new threshold kicks in at £20,000 anyway it may not have a huge effect on most retail employees.

ID cards

Many store owners favour a government-backed ID card scheme as it would make it easier to prevent underage sales. However, the government's voluntary scheme has so far failed to find favour, with less than 1,000 people signing up each month since it launched in Manchester in November. The Conservatives say they will scrap what shadow immigration minister Damien Green called an "expensive, intrusive and unworkable" scheme.