Free digital copy
Get Speciality Food magazine delivered to your inbox FREEGet your free copy
At present, the UK currently uses a mix of imperial and metric measurements as part of EU rules which have been carried over post-Brexit, meaning traders can use imperial measurements alongside metric, but they cannot be more prominent.
This Friday, the government is set to launch a consultation on whether to re-introduce imperial as the main method of measurement in Britain as part of a wider post-Brexit plan.
This would mean that metric measurements such as kilograms and millilitres would not need to be more prominent than their imperial counterparts, and products could be labelled in pounds, ounces and gallons.
After almost 60 years since the metric system was introduced, there is only a small percentage of the population who remember how to use imperial measurements – and fewer still who can easily convert from metric to imperial.
In fact, earlier this week, Conservative party members faced embarrassment on Sky News when they were unable to quantify certain imperial measures. Quizzed about ounces, pounds and pints, Arts Minister Lord Parkinson only gave one correct answer.
The effect on indies
The government has announced that “There is no intention to require businesses to change their existing practices and so this will not place greater costs on businesses.” But independent retailers aren’t so sure.
Mark Kacary, managing director of The Norfolk Deli, remembers the introduction of the metric system and believes that returning to imperial would cause unnecessary work for small businesses at a time of crisis.
He explained, “One of the key reasons and purpose for moving to a metric system in the first place was to make life easier for people. It would be easier for children to learn and it would be easier to carry out the maths when working out weights and prices.
“100g in a kilogram and 100 kilograms in a metric tonne is far easier to understand than 14 pounds in a stone and however many ounces there are in a pound. Apart from anything else, all our equipment weighs everything in grams and a move back to imperial would require at best a reprogramming of machinery as well as a re-educating of a vast number of people.”
Andrew Goodacre, CEO of the British Independent Retail Association (Bira), added, “The immediate reaction to plans to bring back imperial measures is disbelief. It is hard to find indie retailers who would welcome such a move, bearing in mind that there is already a choice to display imperial measurements.”
Exacerbating the cost-of-living crisis?
One of the main criticisms of a return to imperial measurements is that it is coming at the wrong time – the country is currently dealing with the worst inflation it has experienced in 40 years and a devastating cost-of-living crisis.
As Andrew explained, “The general public has become very used to dealing with imperial and metric measurements over the years and any changes to the system will only increase costs to retailers.
“All indie retailers will say that there are far more pressing issues to deal with and the rising costs of supplies, energy and labour should be the focus for the government. Re-introducing imperial measures is being presented as a ‘Brexit opportunity’ – that really is scraping the bottom of the imperial barrel.”
This was supported by the British Retail Consortium (BRC), as assistant director of food Andrea Martinez-Inchausti told Speciality Food, “Retailers are focusing on delivering the best value for their customers in the face of intense inflationary pressures.
“Introducing new laws to change the way we measure food and drink would both distract from this vital task, and add cost and complexity if existing products are required to be relabelled. The indication of imperial measures is currently allowed alongside metric ones, where that is helpful for customers.”
John Herriman, chief executive of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) argues that this could cause added distress and confusion to consumers already struggling.
He said, “At a time when consumers and businesses are already feeling the pinch from higher prices and inflation, it is really important that any proposed measures don’t bamboozle the public on value for money and the prices of everyday items, or add unnecessary costs and confusion to business.
“The reintroduction of imperial measures would require significant and sustainable investment into metrology, additions to the national curriculum, and a campaign to educate the general public.”
As Mark concluded, “It is complete lunacy. It will cause confusion for many. Just as people are getting used to the fact that petrol is almost £2 a litre, what would the reaction be to seeing prices of £6.80 a gallon?
“If the government wants us to change, they will have to pay for any new equipment, and any additional work we would need to do to change systems because it is not as if this is a necessary change. This is merely a vanity stunt by the Conservative party to appeal to the inflexible and older generation which is living in the hope that they could one day go back to a world of empires and gunboats.”