28 April 2022
New UK regulations impose media and promotional restrictions on HFSS products
Over the last ten years the prevalence of severe obesity has increased substantially in the UK, which in turn has increased the risk of the spread of several diseases. In fact, the Health Survey for England reports 28% of adults being obese and a further 36% being overweight in the UK, with the proportion of children who are overweight or obese in the UK being among the highest in Western Europe.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the impact that obesity can have on people's health. Evidence suggests people living with obesity who contract COVID-19 are more likely to be admitted to hospital and have an increased risk of dying from the virus compared to non-obese patients. With the volume of patients in hospital throughout the pandemic placing strains on healthcare services, tackling obesity is an immediate priority to support not only individuals but also the NHS.
In response to this rising concern, the UK government has imposed new restrictions governing the promotion and placement of High in Fat, Sugar and Salt (HFSS) food that will come into place in October 2022 (Food Navigator). The new regulations impose media and promotional restrictions on HFSS products - such as chocolate, confectionary, biscuits, or soft drinks - including TV and aisle advertising for stores over 185.8 square metres and in the equivalent locations on online marketplaces. These restrictions will however not apply to small and medium companies with 50 or more employees selling prepacked food and drink that fall under the HFSS category. Restaurants or coffee shops will be also banned from offering free refills of sugar-sweetened drinks (Gov.UK).
People of all ages, including children, are vulnerable to the techniques used to promote product sales, with the latest data showing that consumers generally buy almost 20% more as a direct result of promotions (Gov.UK). Hence, it is necessary that retailers align their promotional strategies with healthy eating guidelines in order to incentivise consumers to make healthier choices when shopping.
The government intends to introduce the new policy using mandates in the Food Safety Act 1990 (FSA). These regulations have been drafted with the policy detail set out in the consultation response. The draft regulations can be found in annex A.
Through this policy, the UK government is seeking to reduce the consumption of fat, sugar and salt in favour of healthier and more natural options that can improve diets and reduce children’s sugar intake. As a result, many FMCG companies are expected to look into their ingredients, manufacturing processes and sourcing to find healthier alternatives to HFSS.
Such brands will be driven to re-design their promotional strategy, as well as take meaningful actions to ensure compliance with the new regulation and to sustain growth across their existing portfolio.
How can FMCG brands quickly respond to these new regulations?
- Rapidly testing and focusing on new product development for healthy product alternatives in the market
- Rethinking their current growth category strategy to ensure product availability and visibility
- Showing full product and label transparency by clearly listing the ingredients used during product manufacturing and ensuring claims are appropriate
The UK government aims to address high obesity rates and encourage people to eat healthier by implementing these regulations. Although this may create challenges for FMCG brands at first, they can take this opportunity to rethink their manufacturing and promotional strategies. Those brands will be pushed to increase the use and advertising of healthy ingredients while improving their sustainability efforts.
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