Restrictions on the promotion of HFSS products confirmed

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The Queen’s Speech on 11 May 2021, confirmed Government’s intention to introduce a total ban on online advertising and a 9.00 pm watershed on TV advertising for food and drink products high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS). The aim is for the legislation to take effect from April 2022 and will take the form of the Health and Care Bill 2021-22. Although the details are not yet available, restrictions are likely to include online pages (for example homepages of a retailer’s website or grocery page, landing pages when the customer is browsing other categories of food and pages where customers view their shopping basket or proceed to payment). In previous Government consultations, the restrictions have been mooted to only apply to pre-packed food and drink so, for example, pre-packed cakes would be caught but not those baked in store. Paid for displays, text messages and web searches for HFSS products are also likely to be prohibited. Whilst the specific details of the legislation are still awaited, Government has announced that the Department of Health 2004 to 2005 Nutrient Profiling Model is likely to be used to define whether or not a product is HFSS.

The advertising industry has been fighting against these restrictions for years, arguing that the industry’s contribution to obesity is minimal. The director general of the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, Phil Smith, said: “A blanket ban does next-to-nothing to tackle obesity whilst damaging business, risking jobs and restricting adult freedom of choice. If, after months of engagement, Government has chosen to ignore more sophisticated, better targeted, cheaper and more proportionate ways to protect children online, then business will be forgiven for thinking that this Government cares less for serious policy than it does cheap headlines.”. The Advertising Association argues that Government’s own research says that a total online ban will reduce a child’s calorie intake by just 2.84 calories a day – although this figure reflects the effect of displacing the advertising to other media, rather than banning it altogether. However, these arguments appear to have fallen on deaf ears as the prohibition is now less than 12 months away.

In addition to the advertising restrictions, Government has also confirmed that legislation will be passed in this Parliamentary session to restrict promotions of HFSS products. The legislation will come into force in April 2022 and, although the draft legislation has yet to be published, the details are known since it was subject to a consultation in December 2020. Restrictions will cover multi-buy offers and product placement within stores which you can read about in our last article here.

WM comment

The restrictions are due to come into force in April 2022 and so food and drink businesses have less than a year to adapt to the changes. It is crucial to start planning for these changes now as they are clearly not going to go away no matter how unpopular they are within the industry.