How HSFF Regulations Will Affect Small Businesses (Restaurants, Cafes & Bars)


I think we can all agree that it’s been, to put it mildly, a tough old time for small F&B businesses. Restaurants, cafes, bars and retailers have faced serious, unprecedented, unfathomable challenges since March 2020.

But let’s not focus on all the doom and gloom, shall we? Our industry has also shown incredible fortitude, creativity and adaptability through this time and has brought joy and pleasure to so many people during a time of national crisis and tragedy. Bravo, all of you. 

As always, there are more challenges approaching in the distance and we’re going to use this blog to talk about a big one: HFSS regulations. We’re going to discuss what they are, what they’re for and how you may/may not be affected by them. 


What Is HFSS and what are the regulations?

HFSS refers to pre-packaged foods that are high in fat, salt or sugar as classified by the Department of Health’s nutrient profiling model. That could include many breakfast cereals, pastries, ice cream, chocolate and sweets, cakes, biscuits, yoghurts, pizza, crisps etc etc. You can find a more comprehensive list from the government here

The HFSS regulations will severely restrict the ability of medium and large companies to promote these types of products through advertising and with price/volume promotions. They will not be able to offer ‘multi-buy’ promotions for HFSS products (ie, buy one get one free) nor will they be able to promote them at key locations such as near the checkout or at the store entrance (which includes the ‘online equivalent’ of these locations). 

They will also not be able to advertise these sorts of products before the 9pm watershed on TV, and won’t be able to advertise them with paid digital ads. 

The regulations are being brought in in an effort to tackle the obesity epidemic by helping customers make more informed choices about the food they eat. It’s heavily disputed how much these regulations will actually affect obesity but, nonetheless, they’re on their way and the F&B industry will have to adapt. 


When will the HFSS regulations come into force?

Here you’d be forgiven for being a little confused, because the government has changed its mind on this several times already. But the latest information suggests that:

-In-store (both physical and online) promotion restrictions will come into force from October 2022

-TV and online advertising restrictions will come into force from the start of 2023. 

These dates may well be pushed back but the time to get ready is now, if you’re affected.

Who is affected by HFSS and who is exempt?

Again, you’d be forgiven for being confused here because the government has been forced to amend its legislation after industry consultation. 

The restrictions on in store and online promotional offers and positioning will affect ‘medium and large’ businesses, which the government defines as having 50 employees or more - read more here. 

The Nationwide Caterers Association (NCASS) has been lobbying the government hard about these restrictions, and has won some significant concessions. Most importantly, they have forced the government to backtrack somewhat on the advertising restrictions which would have seemingly prevented businesses from even posting pictures of their products on social media. After consultation the government has said that these restrictions will only include PAID ads (ie, not organic posts on ‘owned media’ such as social media feeds or your website) and any business with fewer than 250 employees will be exempt from them. 

It therefore seems to be the case that:

  • Small businesses (50 or fewer employees) are unaffected by either promotional restrictions or advertising restrictions. 
  • Medium businesses (50-250 employees) are affected by promotional restrictions but not advertising restrictions. 
  • Large businesses (250 employees +) are affected by both promotional restrictions and advertising restrictions. 

Therefore, if you’re a small independent restaurant, cafe, bar or retailer you’re likely not going to be affected by the HFSS changes. That is welcome news, of course, but it’ll be worth noting which way the wind is blowing - the government will probably tighten these restrictions further in years to come.