HFSS regulations and food marketing: what it means

By Pelican MD Michael Bennett

3 minute read

Key takeaways

  • New food advertising regulations will cut off primary channels for many HFSS products.
  • 57% of adults support a ban on online ads, while 58% support the TV ban.
  • By shifting marketing spend and rethinking how you reach consumers, you don’t have to take a big hit.

From April 2022, retailers selling food and drink will no longer be able to place products high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) at store entrances, aisle ends, checkouts or online equivalents (entry pages, landing pages and shopping basket or payment pages). Volume price restrictions will also prohibit retailers from offering price promotions such as ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ or ‘3 for 2’ offers on such products.

At the end of 2022, a 9pm TV watershed for HFSS products and a restriction of paid-for HFSS advertising online will also come into force.

The change will cut off primary advertising channels for many products and, according to market researcher IRI, affect half of all marketing spend in the UK for HFSS products.

So how should you adjust your food marketing and advertising strategy?

Taking the hit

While some brands may be tempted to oppose the new rules or promote their unhealthiest products by other means, this could easily create a PR backlash. A YouGov poll last May showed 57% of adults support a ban on online ads, while 58% support the TV ban.

One option is to simply take the hit: cut all online ads and TV ads before the watershed. But this would be costly. IRI forecasts marketers and retailers would take a collective loss of £192 million, or £112 million if brands just move pre-watershed ads to post-watershed.

Another strategy would be to look into alternative channels not covered by the new rules, such as print and radio advertising, but this could also result in losses of around $96 million in lost sales across manufacturers and retailers.

But by shifting marketing spend and rethinking how you reach consumers, you don’t necessarily have to take a big hit. Remember, there were brands around long before the internet, and even before television!

Assess which channels are available and how effective they can be at reaching your audience. Then, rather than transpose the same creatives and budgets, rebuild your campaign from the ground up. This will mean rethinking how much is put into brand building, how much is spent on quality creative as opposed to buying media, and how all parts of your campaign fit together.

Nike’s Colin Kaepernick campaign, which started with a Tweet, is a great example of effective marketing which doesn’t rely on paid advertising for specific products. HFSS brands could similarly focus more on broader brand-building, which might also work out cheaper than online paid advertising in some cases.

A case for reformulation

Arguably the most effective response is to quietly reduce levels of sugar and fat in existing products. Reformulations, when done unobtrusively and gradually, are less likely to effect sales than creating new alternatives.

But brands could also see the new regulations as an opportunity to demonstrate their values and take the lead on childhood obesity and nutrition. As consumers increasingly reward businesses who stand for something with loyalty, now is the time to embrace responsible marketing. Think about how you can improve the visibility of healthier versions of your products.

IRI says 78% of HFSS manufacturers also have products which won’t be subject to the new regulations, and promoting these is likely to be the most productive way forward, especially with younger consumers showing more interested in healthier products.

It remains to be seen exactly how advertisers and brands will respond to the legislation, and what effect it will have on the nation’s health. But as we start to recover from the pandemic, brands which demonstrate they value the customer’s wellbeing as much as their spending power will prove the ultimate winners.

If you need help re-aligning your communications strategy to the new government and NFS guidelines, get in touch today to speak to one of the experts at Pelican.

Pelican Communications is a specialist in the environment & CSRfoodpackaging & logistics and trade association sectors and offers a range of services such as strategydesigncontent creationpublic relations and people developmentContact us for marketing and communications expertise.