UK Food and Beverage Companies Struggle with HFSS

Denis Storey
February 1, 2022
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As if UK food and beverage retailers didn’t face enough challenges in the new year – between supply chain sclerosis and a depleted labour pool – these companies must fundamentally change how they do business to comply with recent legislation that severely limits the marketing of foods with high fat, sugar, or salt (HFSS) content.

This law restricts the promotion of products that score more than four on the Department of Health’s Nutrient Profiling Model. This includes goods such as soft drinks, other drinks with added sugars, cakes, candies, cereals, pastries, ice cream, and crisps.

The new HFSS regulation makes it illegal to engage in volume or location promotions, and some online and television advertising before 9 p.m. local time.

The law restricts:

  • Volume promotions (such as buy one, get one free).
  • Location promotions (such as products stocked at the checkout lanes or on endcaps).
  • Free sugary drink refills.
  • Online location promotions, such as entry landing pages.

Lawmakers pushed this regulation in response to growing concern over the nation’s obesity epidemic.

According to the Hunter College New York City Policy Center, “In 2019, almost 29% of adults in the United Kingdom were obese, and an additional 35% were overweight. Among children between the ages of 10 and 11, 20% were obese, and 14% were overweight.”

Additionally, a 2015 Public Health England study found that higher-sugar food and beverages were more likely to be on sale than healthier foods, and that discounted prices steer consumers toward these less healthy products.

Looming Implementation Worries Retailers

While officials have already pushed back implementation once – from April to November – the nation’s grocers insist they need more time.

At last count, 87% of the top UK supermarkets want at least a six-month – or longer – extension, according to research from Spoon Guru. However, the AI nutrition technology firm also found that a quarter of the people surveyed said they’re not ready for the change.

“The ruling has been announced but not clarified, with little to no support on the knock-on effects,” Johanna Bolinder, Head of Health and Sustainability at Spoon Guru, told FoodIngredientsFirst in a recent interview.

Many fear the financial aftershocks, especially when the economy is still struggling to recover from the pandemic. Research giant IRI estimates that “of the top 15 impacted categories, 64% of SKUs fall within HFSS restrictions. By removing display and multibuys from these categories, analysis projects an impact of £1.1 billion of lost sales for UK grocery.”

What Can Companies Do?

For those on the front lines – such as grocers and convenience store operators – technology offers a way to ensure compliance with the new regulations.

“While retailers are keen to support consumers in making healthy choices, the complexity of impending HFSS regulations represent a real challenge for retailers at both board and store level,” Spoon Guru Co-founder Markus Stripf told FoodIngredientsFirst. “The retail industry is being transformed by technology, and it’s imperative we use new abilities and platforms to help consumers make informed choices about their health, as well as improving our own infrastructure.” 

That starts with clear, consumer-friendly labels, which can help retailers make informed decisions about in-store product placement.

And for food and beverage manufacturers eager to reformulate existing products to get out from under the shadow of HFSS, leveraging a digital platform to quickly find new ingredient suppliers will be critical to launching new products quickly.