New government guidelines are due to come into force in October 2022 that will place limitations on the promotion of products containing high levels of fat, sugar and salt. But recent research by YouGov has revealed that 70% of food and drink companies aren’t prepared for HFSS regulations. And 20% aren’t even aware that guidelines are changing.

To help food and beverage brands prepare for the introduction of HFSS, we’ve taken a closer look at what the new legislation involves – and which food product categories will be affected by the changes… 

What does HFSS stand for – and why is the UK government introducing HFSS legislation? 

HFSS is an acronym for high (saturated) fat, sugar and salt foods, which the UK government wants to clamp down on the sale of as part of its Tackling Obesity strategy.  Around two thirds of British adults are currently above their healthy weight, and officials are also concerned about rising levels of childhood obesity.

To help lower the number of people suffering from chronic conditions linked to obesity – such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease – and relieve the strain they place on the NHS, the Department of Health is looking at ways to help people make healthier choices. One of which is placing restrictions on the promotion of foods that are high in saturated fat, sugar and salt. 

Industry research has found that people typically buy 20% more food when it’s on promotion. And consumers are being subjected to more promotions than ever: around 40% of all the food and drink purchased in Europe is either on offer or part of a high volume promotion such as 3 items for the price of 2. 

What’s restricted under HFSS guidelines? 

The new HFSS regulations will stop retailers and hospitality venues from being able to launch high-profile in-store, out-of-home and online promotions on high fat, salt and sugar products. This will put an end to:

  • Promotions at store entrances, aisle ends and checkouts
  • Online promotions on prominent web pages such as food category landing pages, homepages and basket/payment pages

From October 2022; and 

  • Multi-buy offers such as buy-one-get-one-free or 3 for 2 
  • Free refills of sugar-sweetened drinks in restaurants and cafes 

From October 2023.

However, micro/small businesses with fewer than 50 employees and stores smaller than 2,000 square feet (including chain/franchise stores) will be exempt from HFSS guidelines.

The government has also identified key pre-packaged food and drink categories that will be subject to HFSS restrictions. These include:

  • Biscuits
  • Breaded/battered products 
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Cakes
  • Chocolate confectionery
  • Chips and similar potato products 
  • Crisps and savoury snacks 
  • Ice cream
  • Juice-based drinks with added sugar 
  • Milk-based drinks with added sugar 
  • Morning goods (e.g. pastries)
  • Pizza
  • Puddings
  • Ready meals
  • Soft drinks
  • Sugar confectionery
  • Yoghurts

Promotions will not be affected when goods are sold through a specialist retailer stocking one food category – for example, sweet shops and chocolatiers. 

How are HFSS products calculated? 

Exactly what constitutes a high fat, salt or sugar product is determined by the Department of Health’s Nutrient Profiling Model

Any product scoring 4 or more (food) or 1 and above (drink) will be categorised as HFSS and therefore subject to promotional restrictions. 

When will HFSS rules come into force – and is there a penalty for non-compliance? 

New HFSS regulations will apply from 1st October 2022. They were originally due to be introduced in April 2022, but the government pushed back the deadline to allow retailers and food companies to recover from recent trading disruptions including Brexit and the pandemic. 

It has also delayed restrictions on multi-buy offers and free soft drink refills until October 2023 to help consumers cope with the increasing cost of living.

From October, any retailers or hospitality venues found to be non-compliant with HFSS guidelines can be issued with a stop notice or improvement notice by local authorities. Any business that does not respond to this notice may be subject to a fixed monetary penalty. 

How can food brands prepare for HFSS? 

While the new restrictions are targeting retailers, there is a significant knock-on effect for any food or drink brands with products that fall into HFSS categories. These brands need to think carefully about how promotional restrictions will impact sales – and whether reformulating their products to avoid HFSS restrictions is the best course of action. 

HFSS will also heavily impact new product development (NPD), encouraging food & beverage companies to develop products that are lower in saturated fat, salt and sugar.

Creating or reformulating consumable goods is not the work of a minute, and brands need to make sure they understand the new guidelines and create compliant products.

To make the process smoother, many companies are choosing to work with a regulatory agency that understands the ins-and-outs of HFSS, who can develop a strategy for lowering their Nutrient Profiling Model score before October. 

As a specialist food compliance agency, Hooley Brown is already helping brands to prepare for HFSS – and we’re going to be sharing our knowledge and guidance over the coming weeks. Keep an eye out for more blog posts on what the new HFSS legislation means for food & drink brands, and how to successfully meet new nutritional criteria. 

If you would like 1:1 advice on how HFSS will affect your business, Hooley Brown is happy to guide you through the compliance process.

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