UK government makes U-turn on HFSS, delaying restrictions on promotions

17 May 2022, 08:24 AM
  • Boris Johnson has announced that restrictions on promotions of HFSS (high fat, salt or sugar) products are now to be implemented in October 2023 instead of this autumn

UK government makes U-turn on HFSS, delaying restrictions on promotions

Yesterday morning, the UK government announced that some of the planned restrictions including promotions on HFSS products and post-watershed advertising will be delayed until October 2023. 

Restrictions on where HFSS foods can be placed in-store will still go ahead in October 2022 as planned.

A welcome delay
This decision has been praised by trade bodies such as the Food & Drink Federation (FDF), who said they were glad ministers had listened to the industry’s calls for a delay.

Kate Halliwell, the chief scientific officer at the FDF, told Speciality Food, “We welcome the UK Government’s pragmatism during the cost-of-living crisis. At a time when both families and our manufacturers are struggling with high inflation, it makes sense to delay the restrictions on volume promotions for everyday food and drink products, including breakfast cereals, ready meals and yoghurts, as it risked further stretching already pressed household budgets.

“We also welcome the delay to the start of advertising restrictions, given the time it will take our industry to prepare for the change in law.”

Sue Eustace, Advertising Association public affairs director, added, “The announcement of a 12-month delay is a sensible decision at this time to allow the industry to work through with government the most successful way to tackle obesity.

“The industry is committed to tackling this issue in a way that recognises the cost-of-living crisis and pressures that everybody is facing currently.

“We know from the evidence that an HFSS ad ban will not be the most effective route, and we welcome the opportunity to look again at this legislation and find the best way to a solution.”

Failing the nation’s health
The delays have been criticised for failing the nation’s health. Rebecca Sunter, programme director of the Childhood Obesity programme at Impact on Urban Health argued, “This is devastating news and a real step back for children’s health.

“Families face a tidal wave of junk food promotions every day and our high streets are flooded with unhealthy options. In the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, we need firm government commitments to make nutritious food affordable and accessible for everybody, no matter where they live.”

Caroline Cerny, of the Obesity Health Alliance campaign group, dismissed the idea that keeping promotions would help consumers facing pressure on incomes. She explained, “We are very concerned by these reports and urge the Government to stick to its plans to restrict promotions on junk food in October. 

“Research is crystal clear that multi-buy promotions are a false economy that do not save us money. They are a marketing tactic purposely designed to entice us to buy more and buy more often. Delaying these new laws will do nothing to help the cost-of-living crisis but will worsen the health of the nation.

The idea that promotions such as BOGOF and 50% extra-free are actually a false economy is something Barbara Crowther, coordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign at Sustain, also recognises. “This Government u-turn will do absolutely nothing to help low income families in the cost-of-living crisis, and only exacerbates the obesity crisis now costing the NHS over 6 billion a year in treating diet-related diseases.

“All the evidence shows that multi-buys on HFSS products are a false economy. They have been described as ‘immoral’ in the past, as people spend up to 20% more, not less, over the course of a year. These marketing tactics divert shoppers away from healthier food and drink towards impulse buying and cheap calorie fillers such as snacks, crisps, biscuits and cakes.

“The Government could consider far more effective measures to support families to access healthy and nutritious food during this cost-of-living crisis. Beyond addressing real living wage and adequate benefit levels, some specific ideas include expanding Healthy Start voucher eligibility to more families with young children, which supports them to purchase fruit, veg, and infant formula.”

Impact on indie retailers
Independent fine food retailers are also obviously worried, as they will struggle to promote higher-quality food during the cost-of-living crisis while big retailers continue to offer discounts on unhealthy snacks.

Andrew Goodacre, CEO of the British Independent Retailers Association (Bira), explained, “This [delay] will clearly favour the large retailers who will continue to benefit from large-scale product promotions and yet have to make a minimal physical change to the store layout (a case of moving products around).

“It is obviously important to restrict the impact on the cost of living but it appears the government does not mind if business costs are increased (which in turn may lead to further inflation). This partial U-turn does not help independent food outlets that will continue to promote the benefits of fresh, better-quality food.

“Once again, we see the cost burden of this new legislation being passed on to businesses who are already dealing with significant increases in costs. Pressure should be put on large manufacturers to produce healthier food whilst still offering good value.”

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