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The Government has been talking about regulating unhealthy foods for a long time. In 2019 it consulted on a set of regulations to foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) – what most of us would call junk food.

And on October 1 the first set of regulations from this program came into force, strictly curtailing the way these products are promoted, both instore and online.

Being on the wrong side of these regulations could be costly, with a possible fine of £2500 after an initial warning. If you’re wanting to make 100% sure that all of your stores are compliant, get in touch and one of our ‘Shepherds’ could be assessing your store within hours.

What food is covered

The HFSS regulations cover pre-packaged foods and drinks meeting specific nutritional tests for how unhealthy they are. They generally do not cover food prepared in a restaurant and meant to be eaten there – although there are some restrictions on things like free refills.

They largely apply to foods that are ready to eat – not ingredients one has to cook at home. Think potato chips, not the potatoes and the oil you could use to make your own potato chips. However, foods that are sold as complete meals just needing a bit of heating up – like frozen pizzas – are covered.

They also apply to sugary soft drinks. An exact list is available here.

A range of brands who generally sell foods that are thought of as fitting into these categories – like Kettle Potato Chips for example – are now launching versions of their products that are don’t fall afoul of the regulations, so it’s worth checking exactly whether a “bag of chips” that you stock might be covered.

What the regulations mean

To be clear, the regulations don’t stop you stocking and selling these products. They just place restrictions on the way you sell them.

The regulations in place since October 1 relate to placing and promotion of the product instore.

The biggest area is simply placement: You are no longer be allowed to promote these products in the spots known to move lots of product, such as the end of aisles or by the checkout counter. They can no longer have their own free-standing promotional islands or be so close to the end of the aisle or the checkout line that they might as well be there. 

There are of course space restraints to consider – and complicated mathematical formulas to work out how exactly they apply.

HFSS regulations are largely targeted at supermarkets, not small businesses. You must have 50 employees or more across your total operation for the regulations to apply, and a floor area of more than 2000 square feet. And if you’re a specialist retailer like a chocolatier with more than 50 employees you will likely be exempt.

What about the volume restrictions?

This tranche of the HFSS regulations is just the first step of the programme, with a place from 2024 to also restrict “buy one get one free” style volume promotions on such products.

Former Prime Minister Liz Truss said she was against these kinds of regulations when she was running for leader, but she has now been deposed as leader of the Conservative Party. It’s not clear what exactly the Rishi Sunak administration will decide on this issue.


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