HFSS: the what, the why, and the how

HFSS: the what, the why, and the how

What is HFSS? 

HFSS stands for “High in Fat, Salt and Sugar”, it is a type of food or beverage that has been classified using a calculation developed by the Food Standards Agency in 2004/05. The calculation considers A points (Energy kJ, saturated fat (g), total sugar (g) and sodium (mg)) against C points (fruit, vegetable and nut (%), fibre NSP/AOAC (g) and protein (g)). The calculation is based on per 100g of a product, and a food scoring 4 or more and beverage scoring 1 or more is classified as a HFSS product.  

As part of the Childhood Obesity Plan published in 2018, the UK government  has laid out plans for legislation to strengthen the Obesity Plan execution. HFSS product promotions in the retail environment will be restricted by volume price and location. HFSS products will not be able to be promoted at or near aisle ends, checkouts in-store and online equivalents online such as entry pages, landing pages, shopping basket or payment page. Promotions such as 3 for 2 or buy-one-get-one-free will no longer be possible on HFSS products. 

Why is this legislation happening? 

Our food retail environment is key in how we access and consume food, and improving that system is crucial to help tackle the NHS spend of £6 billion per year on obesity-related illnesses. Gradual overconsumption of foods high in calories, sugar, fat and salt can have a significant impact on overall health and wellbeing, by increasing the risk of developing obesity-related illnesses. 

“Obesity is one of the biggest health crises the country faces as almost two-thirds (63%) of adults in England are overweight or living with obesity and 1 in 3 children leave primary school overweight or obese.” (Gov.UK, 2021). 

Promotional offers and influences of products are geared towards more unhealthy products compared to healthier products, and they lead to 20% increase in purchases of these unhealthier products (Public Health England, 2015).

The National Food Strategy mentioned the ‘junk food cycle’ and highlighted a need for reformulation of product offerings in the retail environment making healthier options of food available for everyone, by proposing a wholesale tax on salt and sugar to help drive reformulation projects in industry. 

How is the legislation being rolled out? 

HFSS products impacted will be from the following categories: 

  • Soft drinks
  • Cakes
  • Chocolate confectionery
  • Sugar confectionery
  • Ice cream
  • Morning goods (eg pastries, croissants)
  • Puddings
  • Sweet biscuits
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Yoghurts
  • Milk-based drinks with added sugar
  • Juice-based drinks with added sugar
  • Pizza
  • Ready meals
  • Meal centres including breaded and battered products
  • Crisps
  • Savoury snacks
  • Chips and similar potato products
  • Free refills of sugar sweetened drinks (in restaurants and coffee shops also in scope)

Businesses with 50 or more employees with a store size larger than 185.8 square metres are affected by the legislation. Specialist shops like sweet shops, or chocolatiers are exempt as are small/micro businesses, with a store smaller than 185.8 square metres (even if they belong to a larger organisation). The retailers are responsible for maintaining correct and updated HFSS product libraries to be compliant with the legislation, and local authorities will play a part in enforcement of the law.

The legislation is coming into force in the UK October, 2022.

Learn more on how Spoon Guru can help you reduce the impact of HFSS on your business.

Other articles in this series:

HFSS: what has been done before and do these restrictions work?

HFSS enforcement and compliance: what we know about it so far


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Johanna Bolinder
Head of Health & Sustainability, Spoon Guru