Gauging the consumer appetite for HFSS treats

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Research has found that consumers are still leaning towards treats that are higher in fat, salt and sugar, despite the proposed restrictions. Pic: GettyImages/Peter Cade
Research has found that consumers are still leaning towards treats that are higher in fat, salt and sugar, despite the proposed restrictions. Pic: GettyImages/Peter Cade

Related tags Vypr HFSS legislation better for you reformulation

Research by innovation intelligence platform Vypr around the National Food Strategy revealed 83% of consumers believe there is a need for new or reformulated food products that are healthier, however, the appetite for so-called ‘unhealthy’ food remains.

Vypr’s research further identified that 73% of those surveyed claimed to check nutrition labels, while 71% are determined to take steps to reduce the amount of fat, sugar and salt in their grocery buys.

Despite this appetite, only 15% are aware of the UK government’s HFSS (high in fat, salt and sugar) legislations – originally proposed for October 2022, but postponed (not cancelled) until a year later.

The new timeline

October 2022: Instore laws remain applicable in England and Wales from October this year, banning HFSS products from ‘impulse’ areas such as checkouts or gondola ends. [Some exemptions do apply: stores that are smaller than 185.8m2​ (2,000 square feet); speciality food stores that sell one type of product, such as chocolate; and businesses with less than 50 employees.]

October 2023: A veto on multibuy deals on foods and drinks and restrictions on free refills for soft drinks will now be delayed for a year.

January 2024: The planned restrictions for banning HFSS being advertised on TV before 9pm and paid-for adverts online have also been pushed back and will come into force January 2024.

Consumer mindset

Vypr’s research found 89% said they would still buy the treats they wanted, despite the restrictions.

Conducted earlier this year among a sample of 5,000 of Vypr’s nationally representative panel of 65,000 consumers, the research also confirmed affordability is a bigger barrier than taste when it comes to making healthy choices.

In fact, asked what might stop them from buying healthier food products, 44% cited price and the fact that healthier foods were typically more expensive. In comparison, only 17% said they don’t taste as good.

Ben Davies, Vypr’s founder and formerly buyer and buying manager at Sainsbury’s and the Co-op, said as confusing as it is, the changing legislation brings with it an enormous opportunity for brand owners.

“As confusing as recent policy decisions may appear, a clear picture is emerging – innovation will be the driving force of success amidst a constantly shifting environment,” ​said Davies.

The writing is on the wall for retailers and manufacturers. The government’s ruling out of a proposed salt and sugar tax as part of the National Food Strategy heightens the opportunity for them to seize the day.

“With increasing public concern over this issue and long-term brand reputation at stake, the onus is now on brands and suppliers to push things forward and not lose momentum – we shouldn’t have to rely on government legislation to drive this change. It’s a great opportunity to bring about the next phase of food and drink innovation.”

He added, “There are so many different variables when you’re looking at raw materials and ingredients.

Sugar is 2,000 years old, so why are we still making products out of sugar? There’s lots of interesting ways of getting sweetness and texture into products. Reframing innovation in a scientific way is the only way the industry and public health are both going to win long term.”

UK intelligence agency Vypr tests 1000’s of products with consumers to develop effective tools and techniques built on data and behavioural science that deliver consumer-led intelligence to improve purchase intent and accelerate product performance.

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