New HFSS regulations are poised to reshape the promotion of less healthy food and drink for brands and retailers. Currently set to launch in October 2025, the strict changes are aimed at tackling rising obesity rates and saving the NHS millions of pounds. The path to reform has been a complicated one and the outcome is still uncertain, but as coupon promotion experts, savi decided to look closer at how your brand might be affected.
What is HFSS?
HFSS is government shorthand for products that are high in fat, salt, and sugar or unhealthy food and drinks. Regulation of HFSS product advertising stems from a 2015 Public Health England report that blamed the UK’s obesity crisis on supermarkets promoting unhealthy food and drink products. From Theresa May to David Cameron to Boris Johnson, the report was a catalyst for a number of government consultations, obesity strategies, and confusing guidance regarding the restriction of unhealthy food advertising and price promotions.
Where will HFSS products be restricted?
The rules restrict the placement of promotions in store, multi-buy promotions (e.g., Buy One Get One Free), as well as advertising online and on TV before 9pm for less healthy food and drink. The list of HFSS products is determined by the government’s nutrient profiling model and includes confectionery, savoury snacks, desserts, cakes, and drinks with added sugar.
Originally planned for April 2022, regulations were derailed by confusion over how to apply them, COVID and the cost-of-living crisis. The restrictions on promotions in-store near checkouts, entrances, at the ends-of-aisles, and their online equivalents, did come into play last October, affecting retailers with over 50 employees or that measure more than 2,000 square feet, as well as specialist stores.
There are already Advertising Standards Authority regulations for HFSS products that restrict advertising to children under 16, as well as using promotions or licensed characters that appeal to under 12s. However, as part of the government’s proposed new HFSS regulations, stricter rules on advertising to children are due to begin in 2025. The HFSS advertising regulation will be policed by Ofcom and the ASA and include no advertising before 9pm on TV and on-demand programme services, and a total ban on paid-for online media e.g. sponsored ads on social media.
What are the rules around price promotions?
Restrictions on price promotions are also due to come into effect from October 2025. These include:
- Multi-buy promotions offering a financial incentive for buying multiple items compared with buying each item separately (including ‘3 for the price of 2’, ‘3 for £10’ or ‘buy 6 and save 25%’)
- A promotion that indicates an item, or any part of an item, is free such as ‘Buy One Get One Free’, or ‘50% extra free when you buy 500g’.
- Financial incentives can also include offers on volume e.g., buy 3 products and get 1,000 loyalty points – what is in scope is where a customer is incentivised to buy more of an HFSS product to get a better deal.
- HFSS products must not be offered for sale as part of a volume price promotion e.g., ‘buy a newspaper and get a free bar of chocolate’.
The good news for brands and retailers wanting to offer their customers discount promotions is that money-off coupons are still permissible – the restrictions are around promotions that encourage shoppers to buy more of an HFSS product to save money rather than paying less for an item.
- Discount promotions such as ‘50% off’ or ‘save £1’ are out of scope of the regulations
- Vouchers and coupons for these deals are also not in scope
- Free samples or vouchers for free products are not in scope
- A multipack is considered a single item for the purposes of volume price promotion restrictions
What happens next?
The new HFSS regulations, slated for October 2025, mark a huge shift in how less healthy food and drinks are promoted by brands and retailers, driven by the need to combat rising obesity rates and alleviate the strain on the NHS. Most brands have already taken measures to be compliant by reformulating their products, whilst Sainsbury’s and Tesco are showing their commitment to improving the health of their customers by banning HFSS multibuys even though the rules don’t come into place until 2025. Tesco group chief product officer, Ashwin Prasad said “Tesco will continue to offer great value on products across the entire store, so customers won’t have to purchase more food than they need to access great value.”
The path toward HFSS regulation remains uncertain, but retailers and brands are increasingly aligning themselves with the responsibility of promoting healthier and more sustainable consumer choices. This commitment, however, is balanced with the vital role brands and retailers play in assisting customers to stretch their budgets during challenging economic times.
For now, the assurance that coupons and vouchers remain unaffected by HFSS regulations underscores their role in facilitating smart shopping practices, allowing your customers to save money without encouraging excessive purchases.