Trade bodies urge rethink on HFSS promotion bans at symbol group retailers

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Trade bodies representing the convenience stores have expressed concern about the government’s intention to include smaller symbol group stores in the proposed restrictions on the placement of high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) products within shops.

In their response to a consultation by the Department for Health and Social Care, NFRN and the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) have called on the government to rethink its plans.

The government has in December said the latest measures in its plan to tackle obesity will take effect from April 2022. The measures include restricting where in a store promotions on such products can be advertised, and unhealthy promotions will not be allowed at checkouts, shop entrances or at the ends of aisles.

The majority of convenience stores which are either under 2,000 square feet in size or run by a business with fewer than 50 full time equivalent employees are exempted from the measures. But franchise or symbol group stores deemed to be part of the larger brand owner business – such as Spar, Nisa and Costcutter – are not.

“The proposal to include symbol groups within the requirements of the policy is both unfair and inconsistent with current government policy toward retailers,” commented Stuart Reddish, national president of NFRN.

“By including independent retailers who have decided that they can best serve their local communities as part of a symbol group, while excluding those who trade under their own name, the government is creating a false division between symbol and non-symbol retailers, to the disadvantage of those retailers who have chosen to join a symbol group.

“A ridiculous situation will occur where two stores in similar locations, with similar levels of staffing and of similar size and product ranges, are treated differently solely on the basis of the sign above the door.”

The ACS said the measures will put an estimated £26 million cost burden on around 2,000 independent symbol group retailers. In its submission, ACS has urged the government to rethink the size exemptions and instead use the widely accepted 3,000 square foot definition of a convenience store.

“While the government’s intention to exempt small businesses from the proposals is welcome, it has fundamentally misunderstood how symbol group retailers operate by including them in the scope of these new regulations,” James Lowman, ACS chief executive said.

“Symbol group retailers are clearly independent retailers in the way that they make decisions about their business and operate day to day, and are treated as such by other areas of regulation, so it is absolutely imperative that the government revises its exemption criteria to recognise symbol group retailers as small businesses.”

NFRN said they are also concerned about the timing of the new regulations and urged the government to delay implementation of any changes until April 2023.

“Retailers have been through a difficult year, and the not inconsiderable expense of refitting stores to comply with the regulations would be extremely unwelcome as businesses try to look beyond the pandemic and lockdown,” Reddish said.

“We also have concerns about the ability of retailers to make the necessary changes if the regulations are brought in too quickly. There is a limited amount of shop fitting capacity available, which could easily become swamped as a result of hasty implementation of these changes.”