Introduction of HFSS promotion ban extended; no exemption for symbol groups

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The government has confirmed the restrictions on the promotions on food and drinks high in fat salt or sugar (HFSS) in stores will come into force in October next year.

The measures will be applicable to medium and large businesses, including those with 50 or more employees, but, despite objections from the trade bodies, symbol groups are treated as large businesses, thereby including retailers affiliated to such groups in the scope of the scheme.

However, all stores below 2,000 sq ft, regardless of ownership, are exempt from the location restrictions in the regulations.

Commenting, NFRN national president Stuart Reddish said: “As part of the consultation process earlier this year, we pointed out the unfairness and inconsistency of including independent retailers who operate under a symbol banner, and called for the government to delay the changes until April 2023 at the earliest.

“The last 18 months have been hard enough, without this extra burden on retailers. At least the government has listened to some degree regarding the timing of the new legislation by delaying it for six months.”

The measures, part of the government’s plan to tackle obesity, require retailers to phase out their offering of multibuy promotions such as “buy one get one free” or “3 for 2” offers on HFSS products.

The measures also include restricting where in a store promotions on such products can be advertised, and less healthy y promotions will not be allowed at checkouts, shop entrances or at the ends of aisles. Free refills of sugary soft drinks will also be prohibited in the eating-out sector.

The rules were initially proposed to come into force in April 2022, and the government said it has extended the implementation date of this policy to October considering the industry feedback.

However, the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) said there’s still not enough time to prepare for these restrictions.

“The extension to the timeframes ahead of implementation is welcome, but it’s still not a lot of time to make significant changes to stores when retailers are rightly still focusing on keeping colleagues and customers safe during a pandemic,” James Lowman, ACS chief executive, said.

“We urge the government to look again at the implementation dates and put in place a more sensible timeline to allow retailers to prepare.”

The government said it will continue to work with businesses, trade associations and local authorities to ensure they are supported in implementing the new requirements ahead of them coming into force.

“We want to support everyone to eat healthier foods more regularly and this starts with helping supermarkets and manufacturers promote healthier food choices lower or free from HFSS, to support families to make healthier choices,” Public Health Minister Jo Churchill said.

“I look forward to working together with everyone to ensure that for families a healthy option is the easy option when shopping.”

Lowman however remained skeptical on the proposed benefits of the scheme.

“Forcing shops to change their store layouts is an extreme measure that cannot achieve significant public health gains given that the convenience store sector accounts for less than a quarter of the grocery market,” he said.

“This is another significant burden on small shops, and there’s a growing sense that the government are throwing every idea and policy intervention at the problem without a clear idea of what will be effective.”

As part of the regulations, the government will provide local authorities with the option of issuing civil penalties for non-compliance with the promotions restrictions.