HFSS products found in prominent locations despite Government regulations

Products in the aisles of a supermarket.. Copyright: photocritical | shutterstock

One year on from the introduction of restrictions of HFSS product displays in supermarket entrances, checkouts and aisle ends, a new report from the Obesity Health Alliance and Food Active reveals the extent of compliance and calls for stronger enforcement. Sustain's Children's Food Campaign responds.

A new report from two Sustain members - the Obesity Health Alliance and Food Active - has found that after the first year of implementation, many retailers have worked hard to remove less healthy food and drink from key locations in store including the checkout, end of aisles and store entrances (and similar equivalents online). They conclude that the legislation has already proved itself to be a useful step towards shifting less healthy foods and drinks away from the spotlight in retailers and online.

However, the new Location, Location, Location report also found that some retailers may have not been acting in the spirit of the legislation, with a handful of potential breaches found both in-store and online and reported to the relevant agencies. The report says that some stores were showing a 'blatant disregard of the policy and children's health'. Furthermore, they point to a number of loopholes in the legislation, which mean there are still less healthy food and drink products visible at key locations, which do not actually breach the policy.

The report also highlights the challenges that are being faced by trading standards officers. Insufficient funding combined with competing priorities mean that enforcement of this important legislation is lacking, and there is a need for greater funding, addressing current workloads and staffing issues in trading standards and finally, more training and tools to support officers to carry out inspections.

The report contains a series of recommendations to the government, which will help to strengthen the policy as it enters its second year of operation and maximise the benefits to public health. At a glance, these recommendations include:

  • Ensure adequate funding is provided to local authorities and provide greater training support officers with enforcement.
  • Commit to regularly reviewing the legislation to ensure it is fit for purpose,
  • Streamline the process of submitting complaints
  • Consider how this legislation could be applied to the out of home sector.
  • Release the consultation response for the 9pm watershed restrictions of less healthy advertising on TV and online media, and bring in the multibuy restrictions on unhealthy food as planned.

Responding to the report, Barbara Crowther, Children's Food Campaign Manager says: 

"We're pleased that the majority of retailers covered by this report are taking the necessary actions to shift the promotional spotlight away from the least healthy products. We're also seeing how this legislation is encouraging companies to develop healthier product recipes. However, to ensure these regulations have the full impact for for children's health, they need tighter enforcement, some of the loopholes to be closed, and we'd like to see other junk food marketing regulations such as the 9pm watershed and online advertising ban come into force rather than the current delays. But this is an encouraging start, and we hope the Government will now look to build from here, and put more impetus behind their healthy weight and dietary health prevention strategies."  


 Professor Matthew Ashton, Lead Director of Public Health, Food Active:

“This policy has huge potential to create a healthier environment for our local communities, and this new report shows that it has already started to have a positive impact by shifting the amount of less healthy options available away from the checkout and other key areas of the store, towards more healthy options being visible.


However, insight with trading standards officers highlights the challenges being faced locally. Insufficient funding combined with competing priorities mean that enforcement of this important legislation is lacking. There needs to be more support for local authorities so that we can make sure retailers are fully cooperating with the legislation and hold them accountable.” 



Katharine Jenner, Director of the Obesity Health Alliance said:

"It's encouraging to see that sugary treats have been removed from checkouts across the country, and this shows that regulation can help make the healthy choice the easy choice for everyone. It also shows that unfortunately, the food industry will often only follow the letter, not the spirit, of the law. This regulation was designed to help take junk food out of the spotlight but, due to exemptions in the policy, too many unhealthy food and drink products remain highly visible both in store and online.

“More needs to be done to tackle the growing rates of child ill health – especially as the Government has surrendered to food industry demands on obesity policy overall, weakening the legislation and allowing too many junk food items to slip through loopholes. 

“This policy was planned to come in alongside the much-delayed restrictions on unhealthy food advertising to children on TV and online.  We are calling on the government to move ahead with this vital piece of legislation, and to publish the guidance for advertisers without further delay.”


Beth Bradshaw, Food Active Project Manager said:

“Locations matter. Where products are placed in store, specifically the checkout, end of aisles and store entrances are known to drive sales. The problem is when the products at these locations are bad for our health. 

“It is encouraging to see so many retailers step up and make their stores a healthier place for consumers to shop in. However, this report highlights where the government can go further to fully maximise the benefits of this important policy. 

“After a promising first year of the policy, we encourage the government to consider our recommendations which will only help to strengthen the policy going forward.” 


Dr Kawther Hashem, Campaign Lead at Action on Sugar said:


"Given two thirds of adults in the UK are now living with overweight and obesity, one in three suffering from dental decay and the NHS is under considerable pressure, it's imperative that the government commits to reviewing this legislation regularly and the exemptions identified in this report to ensure greater compliance and protect child health."

Read the report here

Published 4 Dec 2023

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