The Scottish government has revealed proposals for restrictions on foods High in Fat, Sugar or Salt (HFSS) that go even further than those in England, with additional rules around price promotions and the location of HFSS products in store.

Additional restrictions being proposed include:

  • Temporary price reductions (for example 10% off a product for a defined period of time) 

  • Free standing displays and islands in store that feature HFSS products

  • Meal deal restrictions in some form, either those that contain one or more HFSS products, or discretionary foods (multiple options are set out in the consultation)

The legislation only applies to businesses with more than 50 employees. However, symbol group retailers are not exempt from the legislation - despite the Scottish Grocers’ Federation (SGF) and the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) highlighting the independent nature of these businesses. The proposals state that “the size of the business would be classified by the total employees of the business overall and not the employees of the individual franchise or symbol group store”.

For businesses deemed to have more than 50 employees, the location exemptions will apply to outlets with a shop floor area of 2,000sq ft or more.

The proposals are scheduled for implementation 12 months after regulations are laid in the Scottish Parliament. 

ACS chief executive James Lowman expressed disappointment at the stricter rules. “This will cause additional confusion for retailers operating on both sides of the border,” he said. “The evidence from England so far is that the HFSS location restrictions are not proving effective at changing consumer behaviour, amounting to little more than an expensive hassle for both retailers and customers.

“It’s also extremely disappointing that the Scottish Government has no plans to address the inclusion of symbol group retailers within the regulations, despite referencing this issue extensively in the consultation. Symbol group retailers are independent retailers running their own businesses, this should not be a difficult concept to deal with. We will continue to make the case to the Scottish Government in the consultation period that symbol retailers should be exempt.”

SGF remained hopeful that Holyrood may alter its stance on symbol group retailers and has called for the Scottish Government to “make it clear that independent stores that trade under common fascia but are otherwise independent are not targeted by these restrictions”.

What’s more, the group welcomed the exemptions for retailers with fewer than 50 staff, and location exemptions for stores smaller than 2,000sq ft, but urged for stores under 3,000sq ft to be exempt. 

Chief executive, Dr Pete Cheema said: “Many Scottish convenience stores provide vital lifeline services for their communities. That is why we share the goal of promoting healthy choices and improving the wellbeing of those communities.

“However, while we welcome the exemptions for businesses with fewer than 50 staff and under 2,000 square feet, this is an extremely challenging time for retailers and further restrictions are hard to swallow. Many of our members are facing a range of higher costs, including increased energy prices and inflation, alongside a rising tide of new regulation.

“Placing an additional burden on struggling stores at this time will mean that customers inevitably must pay more for their shopping, and businesses are less viable overall. For that reason, we strongly believe that the exemption for location restrictions should be increased to 3,000 square feet. As we have called for throughout the process.  

“We are also concerned that these proposals could have a significant and disproportional impact on some small Scottish producers. Many of whom are a celebrated part of the Scottish food and drink sector.

“Over the coming weeks, we will be studying the detail of the proposals and developing a set of robust recommendations to ensure the voice of the convenience sector in Scotland is heard.”

The consultation is due to run until 21 May 2024. 

Full details of the consultation are available here.

ACS Assured guidance on the HFSS rules for England is available here.