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LEGAL BRIEFING: Government issues consultation on restricting promotions for HFSS foods

Friday January 18, 2019 at 9:18am

Helen Hart, Regulatory Affairs Manager, IPM

The UK government is seeking views on its plans to restrict promotions of food and drink products high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) by location and by price. The consultation ends on 6 April 2019.

The consultation seeks views on:

  • restricting volume-based price promotions of HFSS food and drink that encourage people to buy more than they need, for example, ‘buy one, get one free’ and free refills of sugary soft drinks
  • restricting the placement of HFSS food and drink at main selling locations in stores, such as checkouts, aisle ends and store entrances

The restrictions will not apply to restaurants (the out of home sector) except for outlawing free refills of sugary soft drinks.

This consultation also seeks views on:

  • which businesses, products and types of promotions should be included in the restrictions
  • definitions for HFSS products, price promotions and locations in stores
  • how businesses can put this into practice and whether they will face any difficulties

The government’s aim is to reduce excessive eating and drinking of HFSS products that can lead to children becoming overweight and obese. It also wants to shift the balance of promotions towards healthier options and maximise the availability of healthier products that are offered on promotion, to make it easier for parents to make healthier choices when shopping for their families.

The government says that evidence shows that value promotions have a significantly higher uplift of purchases than simple price reductions.

Another issue is whether the plans should be restricted to items that are of particular appeal to children.  It might seem fair enough to restrict the sale of Mars bars, but it seems unlikely that children would be attracted by a packet of butter on offer.  The government is planning to use the HFSS model, which may be too blunt an instrument.

The government also hopes that manufacturers will adjust their recipes so that goods contain less fat, sugar and salt, and therefore do not fall within the HFSS category anymore.

The government has also explored the possible impact of requiring retailers to ensure that at least 80% of their sales from volume-based price promotions on all food and drink per year are on healthier products.  

The plans have cross-party support, so it is likely that they will be passed in some form or another. However, brands, retailers, agencies and the IPM are sceptical, and have the opportunity to respond the plans in terms of whether they are likely to meet the government’s aims of cutting obesity rates and whether they agree with the evidence the government has presented.  

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