Range of high fat, salt and sugar foods

Promotional restrictions in the UK for products that are high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS)

31 August 2023 | Sharon Morey, UK/EU Regulatory Affairs Team Manager, Lewis Wallis, Regulatory Affairs Advisor, and Rachel Rosin, Product Prototyping Team Lead

A series of restrictions on the promotion of foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) came into force in part in England in October 2022. The Food (Promotion and Placement) (England) Regulations 2021 are intended to encourage food and drink businesses to produce and promote healthier foods and lifestyles. Further restrictions are due to be enforced in the coming years and the other devolved UK nations are planning to implement similar measures.

What is a HFSS product?

Currently, impacted food and drink categories are listed in the legislation and include, for example, soft drinks, savoury snacks, confectionery and pizza. Future implemented restrictions may expand the categories in scope, and so it is important to keep up to date with any regulatory developments. However, this does not mean every product within each category is impacted. Each is rated on an individual product level by a ‘Nutrient Profiling Model’ score which attributes negative points for calorie density, saturated fat, sugar and sodium, and positive points for protein, fibre, fruit, vegetables and nuts. Foods that score four or more and drinks that score one or more are categorised as HFSS products. Although the legislation is in place restricting specified promotions, customers may still require the HFSS score for your product as part of their company policy.

The regulations affect retailers, manufacturers and food business operators selling their food and drink products. Brands are responsible for providing accurate information about the nutritional profile of their products to sellers.

How is the promotion and placement of HFSS products restricted?

The legislation currently restricts the placement of certain HFSS products in prominent locations both in-store and online. HFSS products are no longer eligible for placement in ‘impulse’ areas such as checkouts or gondola ends and their online equivalents. Some exemptions do apply to specific stores including those smaller than 185.8 square metres (2,000 square feet), speciality food stores that sell one type of product, such as chocolate and for businesses with less than 50 employees. The onus will be placed on the retailer to comply with the regulations.

Also included in the initial legislation were additional restrictions that would prevent HFSS products from appearing in specified volume promotions (e.g. multibuy, 2 for 1) and HFSS drinks from using free refill offers, although these have been delayed until 1 October 2025.

The current legislation is only applicable in England, but the other devolved UK nations are in the process of developing their own rules. In Scotland, the proposed restrictions were consulted on in 2022 which, in addition to the rules laid down in England, considered including island and bin displays in the promotion restrictions and ‘meal deals’ in the volume-based promotions. A Parliament response stated that a further consultation of the proposed legislation is due to be launched in Autumn 2023 in order to lay down restrictions in 2024. It was emphasised that engagement has been on the basis that restrictions would not enter into force before 2025 at the earliest.

In Wales, the intention is to proceed with HFSS restrictions on multibuy and location promotions, but also to implement restrictions beyond the scope of the current restrictions in England, further preventing the inclusion of products categorised as HFSS from appearing in temporary price promotions and ‘meal deals’. They also intend to consult on enforcement measures later in 2023, and plan to lay down legislation in 2024 for implementation in 2025.

How will TV and online advertisements of HFSS products be restricted?

Further UK-wide advertising restrictions are planned to be implemented that will prevent HFSS products from appearing in TV advertisements before 9pm and in all paid-for online advertisements. The implementation of these restrictions have also been pushed back and are now due to come into force in October 2025. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) intend to consult on the new rules and associated guidance in Autumn 2023 before publishing guidance on the restrictions in 2024. These new rules will not replace the existing advertising codes of practice (CAP) rules that cover certain kinds of promotional communications, particularly when advertising products to children or which may be attractive to them. The new legislation places additional restrictions on specific categories of HFSS products however the current CAP rules still apply to all products regardless of whether they fall within an impacted food category.

What is the current timeline for implemented and upcoming HFSS restrictions?

Since 1 October 2022:

  • HFSS products restricted from appearing in prominent locations both in-store and online (England)

From 1 October 2025:

  • HFSS products restricted from appearing in volume (e.g. multibuy) promotions (England)
  • HFSS products restricted from appearing in TV advertising before 9pm (UK)
  • HFSS products restricted from appearing in paid-for online advertising (UK)

Scotland and Wales intend to consult on the legislative proposals in 2023, with plans to lay down legislation in 2024 for implementation in 2025.

Are there any other HFSS restrictions that businesses need to consider?

It is worth being aware that some councils are also beginning to implement their own restrictions locally to prevent the promotion of products categorised as HFSS, such as advertisements displayed on council owned sites and public premises. Transport for London (TfL) also has an advertising policy that prevents the promotion of HFSS products on public transport in London.

How can business prepare for current and future HFSS restrictions?

In practical terms, the current and future restrictions mean that many brands may need to reformulate if they want to completely avoid any curbs on marketing activity. The way in which the HFSS scoring system has been set up deliberately prevents food companies from simply adding positive nutrition, such as protein or fibre, to balance the bad. Manufacturers need to bring down the saturated fat, salt and sugar content first.

This presents several challenges because these elements contribute to important functional characteristics such as: taste, shelf-life, texture, stability, mouthfeel, handling, and production reliability and play a major role in our overall eating experience. Consequently, if consumers do not buy the reformulated product after tasting it, despite substantial promotional activity, achieving non-HFSS status may not be economically viable. That is why it is so important to optimise reformulation to ensure the characteristics and integrity of the original product as much as possible.

Our regulatory and reformulation support for your successful products

We understand the challenges associated with using less fat, sugar, and salt in recipes. Thanks to our extensive knowledge, experience and expertise, we can support our clients with product reformulation, evaluate the effects of potential changes on consumers acceptance and satisfaction and therefore help maximise profit.

Our unrivalled experience supports the food and drink industry to exceed its objectives in producing great tasting, high-quality, reduced-fat, reduced-sugar and reduced-salt products with an extended shelf-life, we aim to help companies create healthier and cost-effective products that meet consumer expectations.

Need advice on how HFSS restrictions could impact your business or help with calculating Nutrient Profiling Model scores for your products? Contact our Regulatory Affairs team, who can help with any HFSS regulatory requirements.

Does your business need help to reform your product and ensure it maintains the great taste and customer satisfaction? Contact our experts

Sharon Morey

About Sharon Morey

Sharon Morey is a Regulatory Affairs Team Manager in the Global Regulatory Affairs Department at Campden BRI. She has more than 30 years experience working in the food manufacturing and food retail industry.

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Rachel Rosin

About Rachel Rosin

Rachel joined Campden BRI in 2009 as a packaging technologist after graduating from Reading university where she obtained a BSc in Food Science.

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Need advice?

Need advice on how the new HFSS legislation could impact your business?

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This blog was first published 16 May 2022.

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