U.K. Targets Soda, Snack Foods

The rules take effect in 2022 and will limit how retailers market certain foods.

January 04, 2021

LONDON—The U.K. Department of Health and Social Care last Monday announced restrictions on buy-one-get-one or similar multibuy promotions on prepackaged “unhealthy” foods and drinks sold in shops and online and prohibitions on free refills of sugary soft drinks in restaurants as part of efforts aimed at curbing obesity in the nation.

The new rules take effect in April 2022 and apply to brick and mortar stores larger than 2,000 square feet in size with 50 or more employees, chains or franchises with 50 or more employees and online marketplaces.

The ACS (Association of Convenience Stores) said the restrictions will affect between 5,000 and 10,000 convenience stores, depending on how the government defines franchises.

In a related move, the government last week launched an eight-week consultation seeking feedback on implementing and enforcing the new policies.

“We know families want to be presented with healthier choices,” U.K. Public Health Minister Jo Churchill said in a news release. “This is why we are restricting promotions and introducing a range of measures to make sure the healthy choice is the easy choice.”

The new rules prohibit retailers from offering multibuy promotions such as “buy one get one free” or “3 for 2” offers on these products.

Stores also won’t be able to promote prepackaged food and drink products deemed by the government’s 2004/2005 nutrient profiling model to be high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) in high visibility locations in store entrances, aisle ends and checkout areas and equivalent locations online (landing pages, entry pages of a retailer’s website or grocery page, or checkout pages). Specialty retailers such as chocolate shops are exempt from the location restrictions.

The government said it will restrict prepacked food and drink in the following categories if they are considered HFSS: soft drinks, cakes, chocolate confectionery, sugar confectionery, ice cream, morning goods (for example, pastries), puddings, sweet biscuits, breakfast cereals, yogurts, milk-based drinks with added sugar, juice-based drinks with added sugar, pizza, ready meals, meal centers (including breaded and battered products) crisps and savory snacks, chips and similar potato products.

The ACS warned that restrictions on where some food products can be situated within a minority of convenience stores in England will have a significant impact on more than one in five local shops.

“Retailers are now facing difficult decisions on how to lay out their stores, despite little evidence that these restrictions will be effective,” ACS Chief Executive James Lowman said in a news release. “For many communities, the convenience store is not only the last remaining shop but the last remaining service, and every new bureaucratic burden makes life harder for them and ultimately threatens the provision of all of the goods they sell, including healthy food options which are a growing part of the convenience store offer,” Lowman said.

“Even for the majority of convenience stores that will thankfully be exempted from location restrictions, there will be changes to the way that promotions are configured by them, their wholesalers and manufacturers. We are working to clarify exactly which mechanisms will be outlawed beyond the oft-quoted ‘buy one get one free’ deals that are actually very rarely used in our sector. While we are pleased to have worked effectively with government to mitigate the impact of these restrictions, we should be clear that today we have reached a new level of government intervention in the way our members trade.”

Nearly two-thirds of adults in England are overweight or living with obesity and 1 in 3 children leave primary school overweight or obese, according to the Department of Health and Social Care. Obesity-related illnesses cost the National Health Service £6 billion ($US8.07 billion) a year.