Budgens Wixams

Customers are tempted to pick up extra confectionery items as they queue up to pay

The convenience sector has appealed for more time for retailers to ensure their stores will be compliant with restrictions on siting of high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) products.

This comes after the Department of Health and Social Care announced that the measures will be introduced from October 2022 rather than April 2022. According to the government, the delay is to allow businesses enough time to prepare for the restrictions and follows a consultation with the industry on the issue.

Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman welcomed the extra six months but appealed for more time. “The extension to the timeframes ahead of implementation is welcome, but it’s still not a lot of time to make significant changes to stores when retailers are rightly still focusing on keeping colleagues and customers safe during a pandemic. We urge the government to look again at the implementation dates and put in place a more sensible timeline to allow retailers to prepare.”

There had been some confusion due to the fact that businesses with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from the restrictions. However, the government has clarified that stores belonging to a symbol group are not exempt if they are larger than 2,000 sq ft.

Lowman argued that the restrictions will place a heavy burden on retailers. “Forcing shops to change their store layouts is an extreme measure that cannot achieve significant public health gains given that the convenience store sector accounts for less than a quarter of the grocery market. This is another significant burden on small shops, and there’s a growing sense that the government are throwing every idea and policy intervention at the problem without a clear idea of what will be effective.”

“Local shops have a responsibility and an opportunity to offer customers and communities and informed choice. We have already made great strides in the provision of healthy food in local shops through engaging in the Healthy Start programme and through investment in produce, chilled and fresh food.”

The proposed restricted would mean that retailers would not be able to put HFSS products:

  • Within two metres of a checkout area
  • Within two metres of a designated queueing area
  • In an end of aisle display
  • At the entrance to the store

It would also have an impact on volume promotions such as multibuys and ‘buy one get one’ promotions for products deemed to be in scope of the HFSS regulations.

Is my store exempt from HFSS restrictions?

The HFSS regulations do not apply to businesses with fewer than 50 employees. However, the government’s proposals treat symbol group retailers as larger businesses so they are in scope of the regulations. All stores below 2,000 sq ft, regardless of ownership, are exempt from the location restrictions in the regulations.

The ACS has published a guide for retailers on the regulations which is available here and is working with its primary authority partner Surrey and Bucks Trading Standards on providing Assured Advice around the detail of the regulations

What if I break HFSS restrictions?

Any business found to be non-compliant with the promotion regulations could be issued with an improvement notice by the local authorities. Improvement notices provide businesses with the ability to take corrective steps before any penalty is levied or criminal proceedings are triggered.

Any business failing to comply with an improvement notice is guilty of an offence and the enforcement authority may issue a notice of intent to impose on the business a Fixed Monetary Penalty (FMP) of £2,500, as an alternative to prosecution.

Businesses will have 28 days to make representations and objections or discharge liability following a notice of intent. If the penalty is paid within 28 days, businesses will be able to discharge liability by paying 50% of the FMP proposed. If the penalty is not discharged, an enforcement officer may impose a final notice imposing an FMP and businesses will have 28 days in which to pay or appeal. Failure to appeal or pay the penalty within these 28 days will result in an increase of the penalty by 50%.