Guidance issued by the Department of Health (DoH) online on 6 April affirmed it would continue with the schedule to restrict their promotion in England online and in store by volume price (for example, ‘buy one get one free’) and location.
“It is pleasing to see that the Government has confirmed it is pressing ahead with the HFSS clampdown in October," said Anthony Fletcher, founder and chief executive officer of Urban Legend. "We are the only country in the world to implement such stringent regulations on food to tackle obesity, which are long overdue.
"For far too long, tackling obesity and adopting a healthy lifestyle has been the sole responsibility of the consumer, which is an unrealistic expectation and an unfair burden when they are constantly bombarded with advertisements and promotions for unhealthy foods while shopping, browsing online, watching TV or listening to the radio.
Not 'nanny state'
“This is not about the ‘nanny state’ intervening, it’s about tackling a culture in the UK where we’re tempted at literally every turn. But ultimately, without HFSS, it is the consumer who will lose out on being able to make better choices and our health service which will have to work out what to do."
Urban Legend already makes doughnuts that fall outside the HFSS restrictions, said Fletcher. “Finding new solutions is expensive, but it needs to happen. Although achieving HFSS compliancy is difficult, it is doable. We’ve proven it’s possible with a doughnut and have invested £3m to create this product in direct anticipation of HFSS, with up to 70% less sugar, fat and calories. Other start-ups have also invested millions in incredible solutions, with plenty more in the pipeline.
“The bottom line is we need regulations like HFSS to pave the way for food innovation and the UK has the real possibility of taking the lead on it. Without which, obesity is not going to go away.”
Tough new sugar reduction measures called for
Meanwhile, Action on Sugar (AoS) has called for Government to introduce tough new measures on food companies, claiming they were failing to reduce sugar voluntarily.
A survey by AoS and Obesity Health Alliance highlighted that there was still huge variation in sugar content and portion size across different product types. For example, one cookie was found to contain 10 teaspoons of sugar per serve, twice a child’s recommended daily limit for sugar. One doughnut was discovered to contain triple the amount of sugar as another, showing products could be made with far less sugar.
A total of 40 organisations signed an open letter on 6 April to health secretary Sajid Javid calling on the Government to stop delaying publication of the final Sugar Reduction Progress Report and use the forthcoming Health Disparities White Paper to set out the next stringent steps for the sugar reduction programme.
Disincentivising food manufacturers (across all sectors) from producing increasingly sugary products was vital, the letter claimed. It called for recommendations such as extending the soft drinks industry levy to the most sugary food categories or introducing a duty on sugar paid-for by manufacturers, as proposed by Henry Dimbleby in his 2021 National Food Strategy.
Katharine Jenner, AoS director and registered nutritionist, said: “The vital evidence of progress (or lack thereof) of the sugar reduction programme is being deliberately kept away from public scrutiny. However, it is clear from our product survey that a voluntary approach to reformulation is not working with most retailers and coffee shops failing to make any significant reductions.
"These sugary products are enticingly placed near the tills and end of aisles for adults and children to grab ‘on the go’ with their daily coffee or sandwich, encouraging over consumption.”
Caroline Cerny, alliance lead at Obesity Health Alliance, said: “This data demonstrates the food industry can play a vital role in helping people reduce their sugar consumption – but not all companies are prepared to step up and play their part by reformulating their products. This is where the Government needs to step in with new regulation that creates a level playing field and financially disincentivises companies from producing and marketing sugary products.”
There will be a transition period from 2022-2023 before the HFSS restrictions can be enforced to allow the sale of excess stock.
The regulations will apply to manufacturers selling products direct to consumers and to all businesses selling food and drink in England, even if they are not registered in England. They will also apply to medium and large retailers (with 50 or more employees) offering prepacked food for sale in store and online, including franchises and symbol group stores.
Volume price promotion restrictions
Manufacturers will have to check labelling carefully to ensure they do not fall foul of volume price promotion restrictions. In addition to BOGOF deals, such promotions will include:
- a promotion that indicates that an item – or any part of an item – is free (including ‘50% extra free’)
- financial incentives, such as 'buy 3 products and get 1,000 loyalty points'
- a multipack of, for instance, crisps if its packaging compared its price with separate individual packs (for example, ‘6 for the price of 4’ or ‘50% extra free’) or if there was a price deal on multiple multipacks (for example, ‘buy 2 multipacks and get one multipack free’ or ‘20% extra for the same price’)
- a promotional offer on a newspaper and chocolate, such as ‘buy a newspaper and get a chocolate bar free’ would not be permitted because it indicates that a specified food is being offered for free.
Foods promoted in order to be eaten together (for example, those grouped together under meal deals) would be exempt. Products on price promotion ('50% off', for instance) would also be exempt.
Businesses that will be exempt will include those with under 50 employees and those in the out of home sector, even if they sell prepacked HFSS food and drink. However, free refills of sugary drinks in that sector are subject to the volume price promotions restrictions.
A business with 50 or more employees that sells prepacked HFSS food or drink, but is a specialist retailer or has a relevant floor area of less than 185.8m2 will be exempt from rules dictating where they sell products. However, these businesses will still be subject to the volume price promotion restrictions.
Specialist retailers would need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis by the enforcement authority, the DoH said. Examples of specialist retailers would include those selling mainly or only chocolate, confectionery or cakes.
The Government has also announced that it will be introducing a 9pm watershed for HFSS or ‘less healthy’ food and drink advertising on TV, and a restriction of paid for advertising online.