New research finds almost half of UK businesses unprepared for new HFSS legislation

The landmark high in fat, salt, or sugar (HFSS) legislation, due to be implemented from 1 October 2022, seeks to curb Britain’s obesity crisis with more than one in three children aged 10 to 11 currently overweight.1 

It represents one of the most significant challenges the retail industry has ever faced. The new rules are comparable to the restrictions placed on tobacco and alcohol and are set to have a significant impact on manufacturers and retailers of food and drink alike.  

Products high in fat, salt, or sugar (HFSS) will be removed from prime locations in stores and volume promotions such as buy-one, get-one-free will be banned.

Restrictions on digital marketing and advertising will also come into effect from 1 January 2023. 

New research amongst businesses by GS1 UK has found that almost half feel unprepared for its upcoming implementation, with 70% unaware that volume promotions will be banned. 

A reported 20% of businesses are unaware of the new legislation altogether. Additionally, just one in three have assessed their products ahead of the October deadline, with only 48% reformulating existing products and around one quarter having not even considered it.  

It also emerged that just 33% are training staff on the new rules and only 35% are auditing suppliers, which GS1 UK says shows that there is a lot of work to be done for the whole of the sector to be ready.  

Two-thirds of businesses say that more financial support from the government is needed to help them adapt – with 81% saying the new rules will significantly change how they operate.  

GS1 UK’s consumer research also found that the legislation may significantly affect the way people shop; given that over half currently purchase HFSS products regularly.  

However, 68% of shoppers surveyed agree with the new legislation and nearly half say it will help them think more about which products they buy.  

51% say they would be less likely to buy HFSS products if they were less visible in stores, and a quarter would buy less if they were only available at full price.  

53% say they would miss ‘buy one, get one free’ offers on HFSS items. This is put into sharp focus as 85% are changing how they shop to reduce grocery bills in 2022.2 

With 66% of businesses and 68% of shoppers agreeing on the need for regulation to curb unhealthy eating – GS1 UK’s research suggests that unpreparedness largely stems from a lack of awareness and access to trusted data. 

As a result, GS1 UK has joined forces with the UK retail industry to launch a HFSS solution as an extension to its productDNA platform. Approximately 75% of UK grocery retailers are now using the product data sharing service including Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose and Partners, Ocado, ASDA and Morrisons. 

The offering is free to all suppliers and manufacturers, enabling a common approach for the capture and sharing of quality data to support compliance with the new legislation. 

New research finds almost half of UK businesses unprepared for new HFSS legislation

Infographic from GS1 UK

Anne Godfrey, CEO of GS1 UK, said: “The HFSS legislation represents a seismic shift for businesses across the UK and many of our 57,000 members will be affected.  

“Whilst our research reveals that businesses and consumers are aligned on the benefits the changes can bring, the findings show there is much more to be done if the sentiment of the legislation is to become a reality. 

“Many businesses feel overwhelmed with the challenges they have faced over the last two years, but there is no doubt that the industry, now more than ever, needs to take a standardised approach for the collection of quality data if they are to adapt quickly and confidently to new legislation and growing consumer demand.” 

Professor Tim Lang, Professor Emeritus of Food Policy at City University of London’s Centre for Food Policy commented on the research: “It’s worrying to see that businesses across the food and drink industry do not feel prepared for the upcoming changes in legislation. Whilst the changes will no doubt affect how countless businesses operate, the new legislation is a crucial step toward solving issues around public health. It is however, encouraging to see support for the introduction of the new rules amongst both the industry and the general public.” 

Sonia Pombo, campaign manager for Action on Salt also shared her thoughts on the new research, saying: “Placing restrictions on unhealthy food promotions in-store is one way of helping to transform our food system and save lives. Rebalancing the cost of producing healthier vs less healthy foods will drive further innovation and recipe improvements, to build a healthier, more equitable nation. The food industry should fully understand their influence and direct responsibility.” 

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