The CEO of Danone proposes higher taxes on unhealthy foods

The chief executive officer of one of the United Kingdom's largest food companies has advocated for higher taxes on salty, fatty, and sugary foods.

James Mayer, who manages Danone in the United Kingdom and Irish Republic, remarked that food producers lacked the "desire to change." The French company is best known for its yogurt brands, but it also owns Evian and Volvic bottled water brands. He stated that only 10 percent of Danone's own products would be affected by so-called "sin" taxes.

Mr. Mayer told the sources that the British food industry's efforts to enhance the nutritional value of its products have not moved enough rapidly. He stated that it was time for significant government intervention.

Mr. Mayer stated that this is the only way in which the industry as a whole will be incentivized to shift towards healthier, more sustainable products rather than the frequently cheaper but unhealthy alternatives. The United Kingdom implemented a "sugar tax" on soft drinks in 2018, but has rejected more recent proposals to impose additional taxes on other unhealthy products, instead relying on manufacturers to participate in voluntary programs to reduce salt, fat, and sugar.

A significant portion of Danone's product portfolio, mineral water is also subject to VAT. Previously, the food industry lobbied against additional taxes on the grounds that they would increase prices. Proponents of the strategy, however, argue that tax revenues could be used to promote healthier eating habits.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care stated that the government has taken "firm action" against unhealthy foods and will continue to collaborate closely with the industry.

The spokesperson mentioned in a statement that their sugar reduction program has led to significant reductions in the sugar content of foods consumed by children. The government implemented restrictions on where unhealthy foods can be displayed in stores late last year, but deferred new limits on "volume" offers such as buy-one-get-one until the fall of this year.

The deadline for a ban on advertising junk food on television before 21:00 has been pushed back to October 2025 to give the industry more time to prepare.

Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of the Leon fast-food chain and government-appointed "tsar" of healthy eating, resigned earlier this year, citing a lack of progress. The government did not adopt his recommendations from last year's report, which included taxes on salt and sugar used in processed foods, with the proceeds used to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to low-income families.

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) reported that manufacturers were committed to enhancing the "nutritional profile" of their products, in part by providing a variety of portion sizes. In 2019, the standard shopping basket contained 13% lower calories, 15% less sugar, and 24% less salt than in 2018. Mr. Mayer stated that Danone UK & Ireland had pledged to keep 90% of its product range below the threshold for high levels of fat, salt, and sugar, and would not launch any new products marketed to children that fall into this category.