A Human Guide to HFSS Legislation

In this human guide to HFSS legislation, we’ll break down what HFSS restrictions mean for your FMCG organisation, in plain English.

Sep 9, 2022

By HeyHuman

In July 2020, the UK government announced new restrictions for food and drink manufacturers regarding the promotion and advertising of HFSS products. Concerning products that are high in Fat, Sugar, or Salt, HFSS legislation will restrict price promotion and product placement in stores, and both TV and online advertising.

HFSS legislation has been introduced as part of the government’s Tacking Obesity strategy, to help reduce factors that influence obesity, change attitudes towards food, and encourage the public to make healthier dietary choices.

These regulations are intended to make the healthier option the easiest option for the British public, of which around 63% of adults are above a healthy weight (50% of which are living with obesity), and 1 in 3 children leave primary school overweight or living with obesity.

In this Human Guide to HFSS legislation, we’ll break down what HFSS restrictions mean for your FMCG organisation, in plain English.

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What are HFSS products?

HFSS products fall into two categories: food products, and drinks, that are high in saturated Fat, Sugar or Salt.

While HFSS legislation is a new challenge to navigate, your products are determined as HFSS using the Department of Health’s well-established Nutrient Profiling Model. Simply put, if your food product scores four or more, or your drink product scores one or more on the NP model, they are considered HFSS, and fall under the new restrictions set out in the new HFSS regulations.

Generally speaking, HFSS drinks products include soft drinks and drinks with added sugars, while HFSS food products include candies, cakes, cereals, pastries, ice cream, pizza, chips, and prepared meals.

Restrictions on in-store promotions are currently due to take effect in October 2022, and TV and online advertising restrictions are due to take effect before the end of 2022 also, so there’s still time to prepare.

HFSS legislation has been introduced as part of the government’s Tacking Obesity strategy, to help reduce factors that influence obesity, change attitudes towards food, and encourage the public to make healthier dietary choices.

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What will the effects of the HFSS legislation be for my FMCG brand?

Price promotions and product placement restrictions

For FMCG organisations producing HFSS products, the new legislation presents a number of new restrictions regarding price promotions and product placement in-store.

Popular price promotions, such as “buy one get one free” and “three for the price of two”, and extra-free promotions, such as “30% extra free”, will be restricted under the new legislation.

HFSS products will also be restricted to specific areas in-store, and will not be sold at store entrances, aisle ends, or checkout areas, to reduce how convenient HFSS foods and drinks are to access, and to remove the psychological prompts to buy these less healthy products.

Will all HFSS products be impacted by promotions and placement restrictions?

Not all products classified as HFSS are included in the restrictions on price promotion and in-store product placement, and the proposed categories of products falling under HFSS legislation are those that have been found to contribute considerably to children’s calorie intakes.

The products affected by the legislation include products that you’d imagine children gravitate towards, such as soft drinks with added sugar, breakfast cereals, yogurts, biscuits (including cereal bars), savoury snacks (including crisps, crackers, and pulse-based crisps), confectionary, cakes, and ready meals. However, restrictions also apply to breaded or battered fish, meat, poultry, and meat alternatives, impacting a staggering number of FMCG brands.

Organisations in the OOH sector will also be affected by the restriction of free refills of sugar sweetened drinks.

Exemptions to promotions and placement restrictions

For smaller FMCG brands and retailers, there is some good news. If your FMCG business has less than 50 employees, you are exempt from the price promotion restrictions outlined in the new HFSS legislation.

Similarly, product placement restrictions introduced in the new HFSS regulations do not apply to FMCG businesses with less than 50 employees, stores smaller than 2,000 square feet, or speciality stores like bakeries and chocolatiers.

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HFSS product advertising restrictions

HFSS legislation introduces a number of restrictions on the advertising of HFSS products both on TV and online, that could pose a serious risk to FMCG businesses.

For TV advertising, a 9pm watershed will apply to all HFSS products, restricting the advertising of HFFS foods and drinks on television between the hours of 5.30am and 9pm.

These restrictions will be implemented before the end of 2022, in-line with the government’s campaign to reduce the number of children being prompted to eat high Fat, Salt, or Sugar products via TV ads.

The new legislation presents further challenges for FMCG businesses, introducing a total ban on online advertisements for HFSS products.

How will my advertising be impacted?

The government’s guidance for understanding the ban on advertising HFSS products online, is in relation to the new restrictions on in-store product placement outlined in the HFSS legislation.

Think of your homepage of your website, as a store entrance. Unfortunately, just as HFSS products will no longer be sold at store entrances, online adverts for HFSS products will be restricted on website homepages.

The government’s guidance equates promoting HFSS products when a customer is browsing other food categories, to end of aisle displays, implementing restrictions on this kind of online advertising too.

Finally, the guidance around online adverts for HFSS products on basket, or payment website pages, mirrors the restrictions of products placed at store checkouts, banning this advertising also.

In short, the new HFSS legislation restricts the online advertising of HFSS products on website home pages, landing pages for non HFSS products, basket pages, and payment pages.

How will HFSS advertising restrictions be enforced?

While we know that TV and online advertising restrictions will take effect before the end of 2022, the exact date has not been announced. It’s also unclear how the restrictions surrounding advertising HFSS products online will be enforced.

When it comes to enforcing the restrictions on television advertising introduced by the HFSS legislation, there is already an established system, Ofcom, in place to enforce the new restrictions. This is something currently lacking in the online domain, putting television advertising at an unfair advantage, though things are bound to develop as the government get closer to implementing new HFSS regulations.

Exemptions to HFSS advertising restrictions

Beside on-demand television, which now falls under the new online restrictions, there are no exemptions from the restrictions on advertising HFSS products on TV.

For HFSS brands who currently invest heavily in online ads, there are some exemptions to the new online advertising ban, and these remaining available channels will help to form your future HFSS-compliant advertising strategy.

Online brand advertisements are still permitted, as long as they do not contain identifiable HFSS products. Similarly, HFFS legislation advertising restrictions do not apply to online adverts in digital-only, audio-only formats, including podcasts, digital-only radio, and music streaming services.

Finally, SMEs with fewer than 250 employees will be permitted to advertise HFSS products that they manufacture or sell via non-paid for marketing across the brand’s own websites, organic social content, and in B2B adverts.

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How should my FMCG organisation adapt to HFSS legislation?

Unfortunately, despite advertising trade boards calling for the government to reconsider the advertising restrictions involved in their Tacking Obesity strategy, one they believe is not based on robust evidence, the government have remained steadfast in their plan to restrict TV advertising and ban online advertising for HFSS products.

However, FMCG brands have a number of options to navigate the challenges of HFSS legislation.

Changing your advertising landscape

One approach would be for HFSS brands to simply cut their pre-watershed TV adverts and online advertising, or push their pre-watershed TV adverts to post-watershed, and not reinvest the budget saved elsewhere. This option could cost manufacturers of HFSS products valuable sales, and is forecasted to hit marketers/advertisers and retailers hard, with a loss of between £112-£192 million.

Alternatively, FMCG businesses producing HFSS products could opt to move their TV adverts to post-watershed, and reinvest the money saved on online advertising and pre-watershed ads, into other channels that the tight restrictions allow.

Exploring new platforms and devising new strategies

Your HFFS brand will need to begin creating effective strategies for other alternative available channels such as print, and digital-only audio-only formats such as music streaming services, digital-only radio, and podcasts, the latter being a huge growing media you should not overlook.

Out-of-home channels are also likely to be very powerful for FMCG brands navigating HFSS legislation advertising restrictions. Consider billboards and posters (both static and digital), cars and busses (external wraps), advertising opportunities at transport stations and areas with heavy commuter footfall, inside trains and taxis, and airport media, for excellent OOH channel advertising opportunities.

You may be able to reformulate some of your products to ensure they achieve scores under the established HFSS threshold on the government’s Nutrient Profiling model. However, this is, of course, a hugely expensive and time-consuming process, that in many cases would have a detrimental effect on the product itself, or its market appeal.

Similarly, while introducing new healthier products is a valid approach to navigating HFSS legislation, with less than a year to get to grips with the new restrictions, your time would likely be better spent repositioning your existing products to ensure HFSS compliance.

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Seeking support to overcome HFSS restrictions

Marketing and advertising agencies are going to be an invaluable tool for HFSS brands both on a strategic level, and in helping you to optimise your budget across alternative channels unrestricted by the HFSS legislation.

Advertising agencies can also help you to refocus your ad campaigns towards healthier offerings undisrupted by HFSS restrictions, though this option won’t be available to a great many HFSS-specific brands.

With many changes and restrictions to navigate, FMCG brands without highly experienced in-house marketing and advertising teams, should seek support to adapt your advertising to be HFSS compliant, devise ways to drive users towards your product on the shelves to overcome in-store product placement restrictions, and explore unrestricted, alternative advertising channels.

HeyHuman can help your brand to navigate HFSS advertising restrictions. As experts in behavioural change, we can help your FMCG brand to adapt, and communicate impactfully with your customers with new, effective, human strategies that drive results.