To keep pace with growing concerns for public health, a new series of HFSS (high fat, salt and sugar) restrictions are being put in place on the promotion of certain foods. These rules encourage food and drink businesses to produce and promote healthier foods and lifestyles.
Food and drink brands, like most brands in 2022, are migrating more and more of their ad spend onto digital channels. How are the Advertising Standards Authority planning to cater to this rapidly expanding market? Of course, by completely changing the rules on which food products brands are able to advertise.
The restrictions, set to challenge how brands currently advertise HFSS products, will be put in place in October 2022. These rules will turn food advertising on its head, forcing brands to get creative with how they market their products. But, what is the new HFSS food and drink legislation? What does this mean for manufacturers, brands and retailers? And what should businesses do about it?
What is a HFSS product?
Firstly, what are HFSS products? HFSS products are food and drink products high in fat, salt or sugar as identified using nutrient profiling. These products will be rated individually by a ‘Nutrient Profile Score’ with negative points for calorie density, saturated fat, sugar and sodium, and positive points for protein, fibre, fruit, vegetables and nuts. Foods that score four or more, and drinks that score one or more, are classed as HFSS products.
The Updated HFSS Restrictions and Regulations on Food Advertising
The new laws will restrict any and all promotions of HFSS products online, across social media and through influencer marketing. As of October, if an ad features or references an identifiable HFSS product, either alone or as part of a product range, it will be recognised as an ‘HFSS product advertisement’, subjecting it to new restrictions.
The HFSS restrictions have even gone as far as prohibiting the promotion of brands closely associated with an HFSS product. This means the restrictions can apply even if the product itself isn’t featured.
The restrictions also apply to HFSS products that target consumers aged 16 and under. Using characters, mediums, content styles or influencers that strongly appeal to a younger demographic will result in ads being swiftly removed. For example, if a campaign promoting an HFSS product utilised themes of school exams, this would be a violation of the HFSS rules.
However, influencers will still be able to talk about the brand and experiences put on by a company. The updated restrictions are forcing brands to pivot how they promote their products. Brand-only influencer marketing provides an alternative route to targeting consumers that will be allowed once the new restrictions come into effect.
Brands can use influencers to market any charities, schemes or incentives linked to the brand, as long as no HFSS items are shown. For example, if a brand was working to reduce CO2 emissions and push sustainability in the production of its products, it could use social media and influencers to promote these changes.
How Can Food and Drink Brands Combat HFSS Restrictions?
As October draws closer, how can food and drink brands start to navigate promotions that may be affected by the HFSS restrictions? There are now a few ways brands can alternatively advertise their products.
One medium that isn’t subject to the upcoming restrictions is audio. Meaning advertisements that use mediums such as podcasts, radio or music streaming is allowed. With the popularity of podcasts skyrocketing over the past couple of years, this could be an exciting avenue for brands to explore.
Promoting food products through audio-only has limitations, but it allows brands to insert themselves into conversations where listeners view influencers as their friends.
On top of being a part of peer-to-peer-feeling relationships between podcast hosts and listeners, HFSS brands can use new ideas to encourage the sales of their products through audio channels. Forcing brands to get creative with audio in new ways – blind taste tests, food ASMR, cook alongs or straightforward food promotions will offer an exciting development in the promotion of food products.
Another way brands can avoid restrictions is by focusing on brand advertising. As previously mentioned, brands can still run ad campaigns outside of the HFSS products they produce. Promoting any incentives, events or projects the brand is or has carried out provides an opportunity to build a relationship with the consumer allowed by the new HFSS restrictions. Influencers will still be able to talk about the brand incentives or any experiences put on, offering more opportunities for brands to explore in-person events and purpose-driven advertising.
So, are brands able to promote themselves with no brand incentive? No, that would be too easy. ASA has put restrictions on brands even strongly associated with HFSS products. This means that brands linked to HFSS foods won’t be able to advertise the brand without having an incentive or meaning behind an ad.
Globally, the most valued brand actions in the eyes of the consumer are being eco-friendly (44%) and socially responsible (41%) – GWI 2022. The HFSS restrictions won’t necessarily mean fewer sales opportunities, it just means brands should recognise and begin to rely on the importance of purpose-driven ad campaigns.
Purpose-driven advertising is one of the most important ways to target today’s consumers. By promoting any sustainability measures/changes, charity work, petitions or incentives carried out by the company, brands will still be able to connect with consumers.
Although they aren’t an HFSS brand, a great example of this is Oatly. The brand often promotes branded petitions and law changes linked to the plant-based industry without directly mentioning its products. Arguably, they’ve created one of the most successful plant-based brands in the world by using purpose at the forefront of their marketing.
Businesses with fewer than 250 employees will be exempt from the new HFSS restrictions. These companies will be able to directly advertise their products through any social media channel.
The Future of Food Advertising Under the new HFSS Restrictions
Yes, the new restrictions will cause difficulties for HFSS brands, but they are also set to diversify the ways brands promote food and drink products and breed new creative solutions to do so.
Brands have an opportunity to get creative and find new ways to target consumers, especially in today’s oversaturated market and with the need for purpose-driven strategies growing. Influencers and social media provide prime ad real estate directly in front of consumers.
By drawing from industry knowledge, creativity and the power of influencers, food brands will be able to speak to and form relationships with the consumer.
The HFSS restrictions will result in evolving industry practices. Rather than simply promoting the taste of a product, brands will have to delve deeper into their offerings and brand image. Who they are, what they stand for and what are they doing for consumers outside of their products?