France to ban 'buy one, get one free' offers on foodstuff

PARIS (Reuters) - France plans to ban “buy one, get one free” offers on food products in supermarkets to guarantee better income to struggling farmers, in a move that could also test President Emmanuel Macron’s free-market credentials.

FILE PHOTO: Customers shop vegetables displayed in the fresh foods section at Carrefour's Bercy hypermarket in Charenton, a Paris suburb, February 8, 2013. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

The move is part of a wider food and farming bill, presented to cabinet on Wednesday, which aims to raise regulated minimum food prices and limit bargain sales in France, the European Union’s largest farm producer.

Farmers, an important constituency in French politics, have long complained about being hit by a price war between retailers that they say benefits consumers but hurts producers.

“It will be a breath of fresh air for retailers, who will be able to trim their margins on other products and pay producers better,” Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert told reporters, adding that non-food products would not be affected.

Banning “buy one, get one free” bargains, which are less common in France than in countries such as Britain, will also help fight against food waste, he said.

The proposed legislation will effectively prohibit “buy one, get one free” offers by barring supermarkets from making discounts of more than 34 percent. But “buy two, get one free” discounts would still be allowed, Travert said.

Eight months into Macron’s presidency, the move shows the new government’s interventionist instincts despite the 40-year old president’s campaign promises to cut red tape and liberalise the French economy.

But it comes after hefty discounts of up to 70 percent on products such as Nutella, a chocolate-and-hazelnut spread very popular in France, caused brawls in a chain of supermarkets last week.

On Wednesday, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said he had complained to the chief executive of the Intermarché supermarket chain, where shoppers again fought over discounted products earlier this week, this time for diapers and coffee.

“I told him this can’t happen again, that we can’t see these kind of scenes in France every five minutes,” Le Maire said.

Intermarché did not immediately return a request for comment.

Selling at a loss is forbidden in France. The new measures, which also include a 10 percent increase in the regulated threshold at which retailers are allowed to sell a product, will be put in place for a trial period of two years.

Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Edmund Blair