How HFSS legislation impacts online retailers

No primary category set

The new HFSS (high fat, sugar, and salt) legislation will have far reaching implications for the FMCG market. Launched by the government to tackle the obesity crisis and promote healthier choices among consumers, it will place significant restrictions on the promotion of HFSS products, affecting brands and retailers alike.

You might think that as an online seller this doesn’t apply to you, but it does. There are restrictions on how you market HFSS products which broadly mirror the aims of restrictions in physical retail but adapted for the digital world… more details below. This will impact not only your website but also all marketplaces, especially those which are specialist food marketplaces.

In this guest post today, our friends at GS1 UK set out what the legislation is, the restrictions and how they apply in a digital world, and how you can prepare for the October 2022 implementation deadline.

What is the new legislation and why is it required?

Tackling obesity has been on the political agenda for almost 20 years and today more than one in three children aged 10 to 11 are overweight. In 2020 the government announced that to achieve its aim of halving childhood obesity by 2030, it would legislate to restrict the promotion of HFSS products.

HFSS products are foods or drinks that are high in fat, sugar or salt as classified by the department of health’s nutrient profile model. The model uses a scoring system which balances the contributions made by beneficial nutrients against components we should eat less of.

The overall score already indicates whether TV advertising can air during children’s viewing times and, from October 2022, will determine promotion both instore and online. More information on the model and how to calculate your score can be found here.

What are the restrictions?

The legislation is specific to England and currently covers thirteen categories which may be expanded in the future. This adds an additional layer of complexity for manufacturers, and many are applying the nutrient profile model to their entire range as a result.

Any foods with an nutrient profile score of four or above and drinks with a score higher than one will be subject to media and promotional restrictions. Volume promotions, such as buy-one-get-one-frees and two-for-one deals will be banned.

In-store, the placement of HFSS products in premium locations such as end of aisle displays, store entrances and checkouts will be prohibited. There will also be restrictions place on digital marketing and pre-watershed advertising.

This will apply to main estate, convenience (with certain exemptions applying based on square footage), and online as well as symbol groups and non-food retailers such as clothes shops and newsagents. Online marketplaces will be prohibited from promoting HFSS goods via pop-ups, apps, home, and checkout pages as well through volume offers.

More information on the legislation and the categories covered can be accessed here.

Selling HFSS goods online

As well as the in-store restrictions, any business in scope of the legislation will also be banned from promoting HFSS products online (including in apps) and in locations equivalent to those in stores where location promotion restrictions apply.

It is important to note that the online restrictions do not apply to specialist stores which only or mainly sell food from a single category, such as an online cake or chocolate shop. However, from the 1st of October any businesses that do fall under the legislation and sell food online in England, will no longer be allowed to promote HFSS products in the following locations:

  • The homepage of a website: any image of a HFSS food that a consumer could add to their order via an ‘add to basket’ icon will no-longer be permitted. This would be viewed as placing the product in a “prime location”, as would be the case of items being placed in the entrance area of a physical store.
  • In searches or results for non HFSS products
  • In searches or results for HFSS products that fall within another of the 13 categories currently covered by the legislation. For example, promotions for biscuits could not appear while a consumer is browsing results for cakes.
  • In pop-ups or brand bursts: broadly speaking, the promotion of HFSS products on any page that was not opened intentionally by a consumer will be banned.
  • On a ‘favourite products’ page: HFSS products will also be banned from ‘recommended for you’ pages unless the consumer has previously purchased the specified product (whether in store or online) or intentionally identified it as a favourite. Even then, any product that has previously been purchased or identified as a “favourite” cannot be made bigger, ‘flashier’ or given special prominence in other ways over any other product on that page.
  • All checkout pages, basket pages, or any pages a consumer views while proceeding to payment. If a ‘favourites’ page is part of the checkout process, the ‘favourites’ page restrictions will apply to this page.

As well as the above restrictions on the location of online promotions, all volume promotions on HFSS products will also be banned online.

How industry is preparing

GS1 UK are working with leading retailers to provide a solution for sharing HFSS attributes through productDNA. Designed by industry and free to use, it enables suppliers to easily manage and share HFSS data with multiple retailers through one simple upload.

GS1 UK’s dedicated HFSS taskforce, made up of leading retailers, meets every two weeks to discuss the challenges facing their businesses and collaboratively refine a solution that works for all.

Throughout this process, the standardised collection of accurate, easily accessible, trusted data has proven paramount. Manufacturers are now conducting NPS range analysis while also re-evaluating their pricing and promotional strategies.

The restrictions are so disruptive that many manufacturers are having to plan for reformulation and new product development. The new data resulting from these changes are essential for ensuring compliance, identifying exemptions, and determining where products can be sold.

All retailers need access to this data to examine product ranges and analyse the percentage of HFSS goods. Many are already testing new store layouts, creative approaches to merchandising and are inviting primary authorities to visit stores to provide assured advice. None of these protective measures would be possible without the trusted data that powers them.

Sign up for productDNA HFSS

To sign-up for GS1 UK’s HFSS productDNA solution, enter your details here. Once submitted a member of the GS1 UK team will verify your details and create your account.

Before you subscribe to productDNA, please ensure that you are a GS1 UK or other GS1 organisation member. For more information on becoming a GS1 UK member see here.

One Response

  1. govt intervention and influence on people’s eating habits is exactly what caused the obesity epidemic in the first place. High time they butted out IMO.


QR codes powered by GS1 - The second barcode revolution

QR codes powered by GS1 – The second barcode revolution

French and Italian Packaging laws

French and Italian Packaging laws


GS1 DIT “Made in the UK, Sold to the World”


Free Trademark search tool from Pulse Law & GS1 UK partnership


Consumer trust and transparency, enabled by identity

ChannelX Guide...

Featured in this article from the ChannelX Guide – companies that can help you grow and manage your business.


Take a look through a selection of the latest articles on ChannelX

Register for Newsletter

Receive 5 newsletters per week

Gain access to all research

Be notified of upcoming events and webinars