Advertisers and brands working with food and drink products with High Fat, Sugar and Salt (HFSS) face a challenging time and are operating in an increasingly restricted regulatory environment. The UK Government has banned HFSS products from being advertised in children’s media and during children’s programming and these rules also apply to online advertising, especially if children are the primary audience.
Just last October rules were introduced to restrict where HFSS products were positioned in store locations with HFSS products no longer taking prime spots in high-traffic areas and yet further restrictions were due to be rolled out last month but – to a sigh of relief by many – these have been delayed until October 2025. However, despite this temporary breather, it is no time for brands to sit back; when they do come in, the additional restrictions will include a ban on paid online advertising for “Less Healthy Food and Drink” (LHFD) products on the internet and during the watershed, between 5:30am and 9pm.
Ultimately, promotional tactics will be severely limited by the new measures. It will no longer be possible to offer multi-buy promotions, buy one get one free promotions or to promote HFSS products alongside non-food products.
Time to change tack and adapt
HFSS legislation is forcing retailers and brands to rethink their promotional strategies. Some confectionary brands have already adapted their marketing strategies through alternative promotional methods such as loyalty programme discounts. Others have innovated their product development to navigate the new rules for HFSS and LHFD products, alongside the challenge of the rising cost of living. Another route is to redirect advertising efforts onto the brand rather than product lines since brands themselves do not come under the rules as long as no identifiable LHFD products appear in the advert. This means brands aren’t pigeonholed with their LHFD products and have the freedom to move to healthier offerings.
Prize promotions: a winning strategy
Prize promotions are a way to mitigate against restrictions and secure premium retail space. They can act as high value data collection exercises, providing brands and retailers with a bank of customer data that can be deployed in the form of direct marketing (unlike TV and radio advertising, direct marketing is still allowed for the promotion of HFSS goods). Whilst running prize promotions will still fall under HFSS rules, brands still gain the benefit of cheap retail space, as the cost of running a promotion is cheaper than the in-store advertising or the listing fees they would typically pay.
Canny brands are already harnessing effective promotional tactics such as pack promotions like the Instant Win from Higgidy or the Cadbury Inventor Competition, which were both effective in standing out on shelves, driving sales and fostering brand loyalty. Healthier options and marketing practices are not a trend they are the reality and are here to stay. While there may not be specific rulings against brands, they need to monitor the shifting regulatory and consumer landscape to ensure their marketing strategies are aligned.
Brands looking to thrive in this shifting regulatory environment will need to meet changing consumer demands, which are increasingly focused on health and wellness. Proactively finding ways to offer healthier products and adopting responsible marketing practices will be key to succeeding in this environment. Embracing innovation and consumer health consciousness can be key to long-term success in the food industry. For the nimble advertising and marketing professional, it is a time of opportunity and – in all senses of the word – survival of the fittest.
Jeremy Stern is CEO of PromoVeritas.