Advertisement and Promotion of HFSS foods in the United Kingdom: An update.
25th August 2023
Written by HRS Communications
The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) recently hosted a webinar providing an update on the latest in advertisement and promotion of high fat, salt, or sugar (HFSS) products across the United Kingdom (U.K.).1 Here at HRS, we understand the importance of complying with regulations and preparing for future changes, so here’s the latest.
Data shows that 26% of adults and 23.4% of children in England are living with obesity. Regulations on the promotion and advertisement of products categorised as high fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) or ‘less healthy’ have been introduced in attempt to tackle the rise in obesity levels and lessen the strain on the NHS.
What makes a product HFSS?
The Nutrient Profiling Model (NPM) was developed by the Food Standards Agency in 2004-2005, followed by The Nutrient Profiling Technical Guidance in 2011.2-3 This tool is used to determine whether a food or drink product is classified as HFSS.
The NPM must be applied to products within the categories in scope of restriction, for example cakes, sugar confectionery, and puddings. A scoring system analyses the nutritional information per 100g of a product and provides a total score. A score of four or more for food products and a score of one or more for drink products mean it is HFSS. There is a protein cap in place to protect products that are high in saturated fat but otherwise would not be classified as HFSS due to the high protein content. If a product fails the nutrient profiling tool, it is categorised as HFSS and is subject to the promotion and advertising restrictions.
Despite the technical and financial challenges that come with reformulating a product, large manufacturers have started to alter existing products to ensure they are non-HFSS. As a result of reformulation, the FDF reported that ‘the average shopping basket in the U.K. has become healthier, with a 9% reduction in the Nutrient Profile Model score since 2018’.
Promotional restrictions were introduced and bought into legislation in 2021 in England. On 1st October 2022, we saw restrictions in the placement of pre-packaged HFSS food and drink items.4 At present, HFSS location restrictions apply to shops over 2000ft2 and to businesses with more than 50 employees. The placement of HFSS products are restricted in key footfall areas in stores including store entrances, covered external areas, designated queuing areas, within 2m of the checkout, and at end of aisles and separate structures within 50cm. These restrictions also apply online on home and entry pages, areas used for searching/browsing other categories, pop ups, and shopping basket or payment pages.
There are many different factors that make it difficult to analyse sales and footfall post-relocation restrictions, such as the cost-of-living crisis and inflation, however, a 2022 survey found that the location guidelines did not negatively impact shop sales or footfall and some shops even found an increase in overall sales. It was reported that consumers have noticed the change within shops and have questioned the location changes, however not much further engagement has occurred. In addition to this, however, many shops, including symbol group businesses, incurred financial costs between £6,000 – £16,000 per store to implement location changes.
What can we expect in the future?
Originally planned to be introduced in October 2023 but now delayed until October 2025, England can expect to see price-based promotion restrictions come into place with a specific focus on volume-based price promotions such as BOGOF (buy one get one free) and 3 for 2. Plans for price promotion restrictions have been delayed due to the current cost-of-living crisis as there are concerns that the policy will lead to a further rise in food prices. Consumers have started to change their shopping behaviours following price increases on certain items. Adults have reported making changes to their diet based on the cost of specific food items and reducing the amount they eat to save money.
Following the introduction of the new regulations in October 2025, there will be some exemptions including businesses with less than 50 employees and relevant special offers such as meal deals, ‘dine in for 2’ deals, multipacks, price reductions, discounts, and free samples and vouches.
Restrictions on promotions may differ between nations in the U.K., known as devolved competency. Welsh and Scottish Governments appear to be making similar regulations to England however may differ slightly and come into place at different times. Welsh Government expect to introduce legislation in 2024 and regulations in 2025. Updates on the regulations within Northern Ireland are still awaited, but it is expected that four different sets of regulations will be issued.
Within England, the general guidelines state that all food advertising must be legal, decent, honest, and truthful and rules apply to all businesses no matter the size. Advertising should not encourage excessive consumption or poor nutritional habits. Specific rules for HFSS food and drink apply and this includes not targeting children to ‘make up a significant proportion of the audience’. Furthermore, restrictions state that ‘HFSS product or brand ads are not permitted to appear in media commissioned for or aimed at children’ for example on a billboard outside of a school, and ‘HFSS product or brand ads should not include a promotion if it includes content of appeal of under 12s or contain licensed characters/celebrities of appeal to under 12s’ regardless of where this advertisement is placed. Any health claims made on products must be approved and included in the Great Britain Nutrition and Health Claims Register. You can read more about this in our previous post here.5
What can we expect in the future?
The ‘less healthy’ food and drink advertising regulations will come into place on 1st October 2025 across the U.K. following published guidance on this which is aimed to be released by Spring 2024. This policy covers products that are a sub-set of HFSS products, categorised as ‘less healthy’. Therefore, not all HFSS products will be included in these restrictions, however these HFSS products will still fall under existing restrictions. The new code will ensure that less healthy products cannot be advertised between 5.30am and 9.00pm on television and video on demand. Furthermore, there will be a ‘total ban on paid for less healthy advertisements online’. The restrictions include any identifiable product advertising such as imaging, representation, text, or audio.
The new less healthy policy will only be applicable to three types of media; Ofcom licensed TV, Ofcom regulated on demand program services (ODPS), and online media where ads are paid-for. Small and midsize enterprises (SMEs) with less than 250 employees will be exempt from these restrictions along with online regulated and non-regulated audio-only services, for example radio and podcasts, however, it is important to note that all of the current HFSS advertising rules will continue apply to all businesses. Full guidance on this is yet to be released.
This article has been written in collaboration with one of the HRS Communications Interns, Bells Hann.
- Food and Drink Federation (2023) What’s next for advertising and promotion of HFSS products across the UK? [online] Available at: https://www.fdf.org.uk/fdf/resources/webinar-listing/2023/whats-next-for-advertising-and-promotion-of-hfss-products-across-the-uk/ [Accessed: 01 August 2023]
- Department of Health (2011) The Nutrient Profiling Model. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-nutrient-profiling-model (Accessed: 17 August 2023)
- Department of Health (2011) Nutrient Profiling Technical Guidance. [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/216094/dh_123492.pdf [Accessed: 01 August 2023]
- Public Health England (2021) The Food (Promotion and Placement) (England) Regulations 2021 [online] Available at: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2021/1368/introduction/made (Accessed 17 August 2023)
- Department of Health and Social Care (2020). Great Britain nutrition and health claims (NHC) register. [online] GOV.UK. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/great-britain-nutrition-and-health-claims-nhc-register [Accessed 17 August 2023]