Proposals to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products in the UK could open the door to extend the initiative to a raft of food and drink products - a move that would hit both packaging suppliers and brand owners, according to a coalition of companies.
But one prominent packaging industry figure has questioned the likelihood of this happening and said that any plans to impose such regulations on a global industry like food would require action at an international rather than national level.
The leading UK food trade body also said it was not aware of any current debate to extend the move to food and drink packaging.
Under the proposal for tobacco, cigarette packs would be standardised with only the name of the product and a health warning printed in colour allowed. The UK Government has launched a consultation exercise on the issue of plain tobacco packaging and invited stakeholders to have their say before 10 July, 2012.
The group of UK-based packaging companies today raised concerns that should the proposal to remove all branding on tobacco packs come into force, it would set a dangerous precedent for the regulation of other consumer goods.
The alliance, which includes API Group, Parkside Flexibles, Chesapeake, Weidenhammer and Payne, said the proposal would set a damaging precedent that could see all branding and marketing banned on such products as alcoholic drinks and high fat or sugary foods.
“Whilst ‘plain’ or ‘standardised’ packaging is of massive and immediate concern to the many small and medium sized companies involved in tobacco supply chain, it is the precedent it would set for other sectors that we see as extremely dangerous in the longer term,” said group spokesman and packaging consultant Mike Ridgway, former managing director and Weidenhammer UK.
He added: “With legislation around minimum alcohol pricing in the pipeline, high profile debates about a ‘fat tax’ and calls for cigarette style health warnings on alcohol and ‘junk food’; brand owners and manufacturers have to open their eyes to the very realistic threat of plain packaging being introduced on a wide range of consumer products.”
He claimed that the Parliamentary Select Committee for Health has already called for evidence on “plain packaging and marketing bans” in its scrutiny of the government’s alcohol strategy.
Should the ban for branded packing be extended to food, firms focussing on design, printing and inks would be decimated, Ridgway told FoodProductionDaily.com.
But one leading figure in the UK packaging sector was sceptical that food would be dragged into the furore – and cautioned against the packaging industry getting involved in the debate.
“Although I’ve not heard anything about extending this proposal to food and drink, it would be complacent to disregard it altogether,” said the industry insider. “While there is a risk of this happening I don’t believe it is a high risk. It would be so difficult to implement in practice. Would there be scenario where a can of normal Coca-Cola was in plain packaging but the diet version was allowed to be normal? Of course not.”
He added that the packaging sector was first and foremost a service sector, to provide what its customers required - but that it had no influence over what food companies did or did not put on their products.
“The food and drinks sectors are international ones and any action on this issue would require concerted international agreement,” he said
The UK Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said: “It’s not an issue we are aware of at present.”