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Viewpoint: Legislation

HFSS multibuy and advertising restrictions get delayed, but location restrictions go ahead without needed clarity

Andrea Solana, Account Director at Whitehouse Communications

On 14th May, the Government announced a delay in the implementation of restrictions on advertising and multibuy deals for foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS). Originally set to apply in January 2023 and October 2022 respectively, the restrictions have now been delayed by a year to January 2024 and October 2023. Although welcomed by industry, this delay only defers the challenges brought by these restrictions which were designed without much needed clarity about products in scope.

The U-turn from Number 10 has been justified as a response to increasing food prices, to help families cope with inflation while allowing Government the opportunity “to review and monitor the impact of the restrictions on the cost of living in light of an unprecedented global economic situation”. The reality might be more complex however, with some claiming that the delay has been put in place to appease Tory backbencher’s criticisms of the HFSS restrictions who are eager to stop them altogether. The move also might have something to do with Kellogg’s legal challenge to the restrictions and the fear that other food companies might follow suit.

Although the delay has been broadly welcomed by the food industry as an appropriate decision to give the industry time to prepare, it has been criticized by public health bodies including the British Heart Foundation, Diabetes UK and Cancer Research UK. In a letter to Boris Johnson headed by Chef Jamie Oliver and signed by these and many more organisations, they call on the Prime Minister to reconsider its decision in order to “protect the next generation from diet-related disease”.

Location restrictions meanwhile are still going ahead as planned, with the ban of unhealthy foods in check out aisles and prominent store locations set to apply from October 2022. There is however still confusion about the products in scope. In April this year, the Department of Health and Social Care published implementation guidance that were supposed to bring clarity - but opened more questions than it solved. The wording of the document has been criticised as unclear and ambiguous. This is particularly the case for the confectionery category, with products having to be evaluated based on whether they include “ingredients and features of confectionery” but without further clarity on what those ingredients and features may be.

Retailers keep preparing for the restrictions. While some like Morrison’s are making use of the extra time given and have announced they will still offer multibuy deals of HFSS foods, others like Tesco and Sainsbury’s have announced that they will put an end to them despite the delay.

Given the Government’s tendency to change its mind on various policies, it would not be surprising if this delay could open the door to a scrap of the multibuy and advertising restrictions altogether. With rates for obesity and related diseases increasing and calls to improve the food environment, it would be a missed opportunity if the HFSS restrictions were abandoned. Consumers, and particularly children, need support in choosing healthy food, but these restrictions are a good example of the dangers of rushing policy measures.

The Whitehouse team are expert political consultants providing public relations and public affairs advice and political analysis to a wide range of clients. We operate not only in the United Kingdom, but also across the member states of the European Union and beyond. For more information, please contact [email protected]

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