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Will we have to stop offers on cakes and soft drinks to meet ‘junk food’ rules? Alex Meloy writes for The Times

15 September 2021

Q: Will we have to stop offers on cakes and soft drinks to meet ‘junk food’ rules?

A: You are right to start thinking about this as the government has recently decided to take action to restrict promotions of so-called “junk food”. It has also expressed growing concern about the impact of promotional offers on influencing food preferences toward less healthy products.

In short, the draft Food (Promotion and Placement) (England) regulations will apply to pre-packed foods high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS), which will include cakes and soft drinks. Promotion of HFSS products will be restricted by location and volume price as follows:

  • Location restrictions will apply to shop entrances, aisle ends and checkouts and their online equivalents (that is, website entry pages, landing pages for other food categories and shopping basket or payment pages).

  • Volume price restrictions will prohibit retailers from offering promotions such as “buy one, get one free”, “three for £10” or “three-for-two” offers on pre-packed HFSS products.

The restrictions will apply to medium and large businesses, which are defined as having 50 or more employees. A franchise business with lots of individually owned and operated restaurants or cafés would be treated as one business for the purpose of calculating the number of employees. Shops below a certain size and specialist shops that sell one type of food product category, for example chocolatiers or sweet shops, are exempt from the location restrictions but not the price restrictions.

It is worth noting that the restrictions will also apply to free refills of sugar-sweetened drinks in the “out-of-home sector” (for example restaurants, coffee shops, etc), so each of your cafés will have to comply with the restrictions on refills.

The government decided, however, that food promotions in restaurants (which includes cafés and coffee shops) will not be affected. It says that such offers are generally targeted at multiple individuals eating out together as a group and that the aim was not to make it more expensive for families eating out. You are, therefore, free to continue to promote your cakes.

What happens if you do not comply with the new rules? Local authorities are in charge of enforcement and you can be issued with a monetary penalty of up to £2,500 or be prosecuted.

The new regulations are due to come into force on October 1, 2022, and the government said that guidance would be available in plenty of time for businesses to prepare properly.

Do not forget that there is a wider government strategy via the new Health and Social Care Bill to also restrict television and online advertising of HFSS products, so watch this space for further developments.

Keep an eye out for the guidance, then, and prepare to stop the free refills.

This article was first produced for The Times



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