Range of high fat, salt and sugar foods

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

21 March 2024 | 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.

The date of entry into force of provisions in the legislation preventing HFSS products from appearing in specified volume promotions (e.g. multibuy: ‘2 for 1’ or extra-free: ‘20% extra-free) and HFSS drinks from using free refill offers, has 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, a new consultation has been launched in February 2024 which seeks further views on their proposed HFSS restrictions. The consultation proposes the product categories in scope (aligned with restrictions in England), the types of promotions to be restricted and the businesses that will need to comply. The proposals extend the location promotions in scope to include free standing displays (i.e. displays of products away from other products to increase their visibility), as well as the restriction of temporary price reductions (e.g. 10% off) and ‘meal deal’ promotions. In addition, the consultation proposes to expand the scope of the restrictions in England to cover all prepacked foods sold within retail, out-of-home or by wholesalers. A Parliament response published in 2023 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’ similar to the proposals outlined by Scotland. They 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) published a consultation on their proposed changes to the advertising codes and guidance in December 2023. The proposed guidance states that the restrictions will only apply to advertisements that include a specific (e.g. single SKU code) identifiable (e.g. naming in text/audio/imagery) HFSS product.

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 businesses 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

About Sharon Morey

Sharon has worked here at Campden BRI since 2016, and also has a wealth of knowledge and experience from previous regulatory, technical and other roles.

Sharon studied Nutrition, and has previously worked at Quest NutraPharma (Regulatory Affairs Manager/ Nutritionist and Training Manager), BioCare Ltd (Technical and Customer Development Manager) and Holland & Barrett Ltd (Regulatory Affairs Officer/Retail Training Officer/ Customer Service Manager/Public Relations Officer).

Alongside supporting clients and projects within Regulatory Affairs, Sharon presents on scheduled and tailored training courses in all aspects of Food Law. She has also contributed to and written articles for nutritional and pharmaceutical trade and consumer publications.

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About Lewis Wallis

Lewis is a Regulatory Affairs Advisor in the UK/EU team at Campden BRI and has previous industry experience from working for a large multi-national company. He has contributed to and written material for a variety of outputs including research publications, technical reports, food law updates, blog articles, white papers, book chapters, eBooks and guidance documents. Lewis presents on Campden BRI courses and has provided guest lectures for new product development and food policy students covering a variety of Regulatory Affairs topics.

He is a member of the IFST Food Regulatory Special Interest Group that work to host thought-provoking discussion workshops which feature experts presenting on the latest regulatory hot topics.

Alongside his current role, Lewis is a Postgraduate Researcher at University of Leeds and draws upon his regulatory expertise to conduct research at the intersection of food legislation and consumer behaviour, particularly focusing on measures designed to promote healthier and more sustainable food choices within digital food environments (e.g. online retail, meal delivery apps, social media). He has conducted research on the implementation of High Fat Sugar Salt (HFSS) restrictions within online retail and his work involves the application of nutrient profiling models to products promoted and sold in digital settings.

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About Rachel Rosin

Rachel has worked here at Campden BRI since 2009, initially as a packaging technologist, and joined the Product Innovation team in 2011. Rachel's responsibilities as Product Prototyping Team Lead include contract product development for a wide range of food and beverages as well as being involved in processing trials for clients within Campden BRI's pilot plant facilities.

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