What is meant by HFSS foods?

HFSS foods are foods which are high in fat, sugar or salt, as defined by the nutrient profiling (NP) model brought in by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in 2004-2005. It is a measure intended to help Ofcom and the measures it puts in place for food advertising, especially ads aimed at children.

What does this mean for food promotion and advertising?

As part of a recent strategy to tackle obesity and improve the health of the general population, England will move to restrict the promotion of HFSS foods — foods with high fats, sugars and/or salts — from October 2022. The legislative changes will apply across both in-store and online sales from businesses in England.

This new law will affect businesses with over 50 employees that either:

  • sell (in-store or online) pre-packaged HFSS foods to consumers, or
  • offer free sugar sweetened drink refills to consumers in-store.

In short, the restrictions will ban:

  • promotions by volume of pre-packaged HFSS goods, for example, buy one get one free (‘BOGOF’) or ‘30% extra free’-type deals,
  • free refills of sugar-sweetened beverages in the out-of-home sector,
  • location promotions, including end-of-aisle promotions, checkout stands and store entrances, and
  • all online advertising of HFSS foods.

The restriction of HFSS products by location came into force from October 1st, 2022. Restrictions on these products by volume price will come into effect on October 1st, 2023.

Care homes and educational institutions are exempt from all restrictions. Other businesses are exempt from certain restrictions: 

  • Restrictions on price and placement do not apply to restaurants (including cafés and takeaways).
  • In-store placement restrictions do not apply to stores with a floor area below 185.8m2.

How are HFSS products determined?

Gauging whether a food product should be classed as HFSS is done through the use of a nutrient profiling model (NPM). This is a calculation that assesses the overall healthfulness of a product by measuring the presence and volume of certain nutrients — both those that are of concern to public health and those that are of benefit. 

The NPM that categorises a product as HFSS uses a simple scoring system where points are allocated on the basis of the nutrient content of 100g of a food or drink. Points are awarded for ‘A’ nutrients (energy, saturated fat, total sugar and sodium), and for ‘C’ nutrients (fruit, vegetables and nut content, fibre and protein). The score for ‘C’ nutrients is then subtracted from the score for ‘A’ nutrients to give the final nutrient profile score. 

If a food item scores four points or more, it will be classified as ‘less healthy’ and hence fall within the scope of the new legislation. The same applies for a drink that scores one point or more.

What does this mean for retailers?

The most obvious challenge for retailers lies in filling the spaces left vacant by HFSS goods, such as the displays beside the tills. This can be viewed as an opportunity, however; many healthy food items can actually command higher price points, so consider these items for your newly empty real estate.

A bigger issue (and one harder to plan for) may be the loss of the commercial income received from suppliers in order to incentivise sales of their products. 

What does this mean for manufacturers?

If you currently make food products that fall into the HFSS category and are sold in England, there are two potential avenues you can explore in order to improve their ‘healthfulness’ score in the traffic light system.

  1. Reduce salt, fat and/or sugar. Cutting down on salt, fat and sugar is an obvious starting place for brands with HFSS products. However, do consider that these ingredients often perform functions other than taste — such as creating mouthfeel, building flavour or masking off-notes — so simply removing them may not be a viable option. 
  2. Increase protein, fibre, fruits, vegetables and nuts. To increase the ratio of healthy ingredients in a product, brands can explore experimenting with new, healthier recipes, or fortifying existing products with ‘good,’ nutritious ingredients such as added protein or fibre*.

The advent of this legislation will make it more difficult and more expensive for brands to keep their products visible and in the forefront of consumers’ minds. Because it removes the opportunity to inspire impulse buying, you’ll need customers to want to buy your product before they enter the retail environment. Certain marketing channels such as outdoor billboards, radio advertising and direct email campaigns will not be affected, so start considering these other ways to connect with potential customers now.

In offering healthier food and beverage products that work within these legislative criteria, your brand will also be meeting increasing consumer demand for more nutritious fare — so making the change earlier than mandated may benefit sales and help your brand stand out from the crowd.

How can Nutritics help?

Nutritics automatically calculates the HFSS score for your recipe using the defined nutrient profile model, giving you a single score that is used to determine the healthfulness of your product. A food that scores four points or more is classified as ‘less healthy’ and will be restricted in line with the legislation. The same applies for a drink that scores one point or more.

With full transparency across every product’s nutrient profile and ingredient contributions, Nutritics software enables you to modify formulas that are high in fats, sugars and/or salts and will allow you to experiment with different ratios of HFSS ingredients to beneficial ingredients. Our batch export function, supplier portal and data services (based on the most up-to-date scientific information) are just a few of the other ways in which we can support your business.

Curious to learn more about how we can help? Book a free consultation with one of our experts today.

Protein is one of the macronutrients, along with carbohydrates and fat. It is necessary for the growth and repair of body tissues and to function as enzymes and as hormones. Dietary fibre is required to maintain bowel function, aid laxation and promote satiety, attenuate blood glucose levels, normalise serum cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.