Mindset, marketing, mission: how to rethink brands for future HFSS restrictions

The HFSS changes should be viewed as an opportunity to make businesses healthier
06 July 2022
chris morley

Managing Director

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The headlines call it ‘junk food’. Those responsible for its manufacture may argue otherwise. Whatever the case, legislation arriving in October targeting rising obesity levels will fundamentally disrupt the way we shop.

The basics are clear: products high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) can no longer be displayed in the usual high-visibility locations of stores. Checkouts, aisle ends, store entrances and the like will be no-go zones for such products.

But plans to end volume promotions of HFSS products in October – buy one get one free and similar – have been shelved by the government until October of next year. The change in tack may not have much impact on the plans of some stakeholders. Tesco and Sainsbury’s have said they will stick with the original timeframe and urged others to follow. Some companies, such as Mars, have just released a new range of HFSS-compliant products. But others, particularly smaller manufacturers, have been caught in an inevitably complex no man’s land due to the change in timing.

Negotiations for retail space will be fraught as stores and ranges rebalance. HFSS products will need to find new homes in-store, and consumers will need to ‘relearn’ the locations of products. They may also need to adjust to new products hitting shelves as healthier options make winning arguments for store listings.

These are the tactics. They are inevitable and vital to get right for the success of all stakeholders, not least of which is the public, for whom these changes are meant. If obesity levels don’t improve due to the changes, all is for naught.

At Kantar, we’ve been looking beyond the tactics and conclude that for brands to be successful, they must make high-level pivots in their thinking. The reality is that 40% of food and beverages sold are HFSS products by definition. About 15% of all food and drink sales are from HFSS products. That 15% is worth a healthy £17bn in sales.

So the stakes are high as brands confront the new HFSS laws. Some will embrace it, some will look for loopholes, others will double down on new product innovation, and still others will look for slick advertising solutions and brand positions. But are any of these tactics sustainable?

Sustainable success will come when more focus is given to the three areas we think are being overlooked and underplayed: mindset, marketing, and mission.


Whether HFSS products are aggressively marketed or not, the reality is that volumes are up significantly in many HFSS categories. We looked at the last four full calendar years of take-home purchases and saw volume increases of 10% and 20% in some HFSS categories. More positively, for those watching the increase in obesity, some of these rising numbers were mitigated by improved nutrition profiles – an area where Kantar has seen rising levels of engagement from our clients.

And this is the point: the ‘numbers game’ has changed. The rush for sales at any cost is not a sustainable model. Mindsets must change. Our industry has an important part to play in the long-term health of the populace. The need to innovate products through a more innovative mindset geared to beneficial outcomes should be paramount.


The reality is the diminishing returns of trade promotion have been with us for years. There are numerous reasons – the rise of discounters, growth of e-commerce, profitability issues and the like – but none of those reasons have provided a path to what comes next. And so, the reliance on promotions led to the endless cycle that no one was willing to break.

The HFSS changes should be viewed as an opportunity to make businesses healthier – and not just in terms of the products they sell. This is a chance to pull away from reliance on trade promotion, particularly in expandable categories such as those targeted by the HFSS laws. Some are already doing it, others need to accelerate their shift.


Uncomfortable conversations need to happen in boardrooms. There will be inevitable trade-offs, but those who get this rebalance right will come out stronger in the eyes of investors and consumers. Investors with public and private companies are increasingly interested in ensuring they support those with progressive policies around environmental, social, and governance matters. HFSS falls squarely into this column of the ledger sheet for ‘public good’. Investors need to see their support sitting behind those who actively contribute to the health of those they call customers.

A forcing mechanism for the mission refocus also may come with the third element of the HFSS changes – no television advertisements of HFSS products before 9pm or paid online ads – coming into effect in January. Consequently, we can expect to see brand messaging shift beyond product attributes of chocolate bars and soft drinks to the mission that permeates the parent brand.

Together as an industry, we must get this right for the health of all our futures.


*As exclusively featured in The Grocer, 27 June 2022.  


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