HFSS food & drinks

Retailers are still being advised to seek legal advice from their symbol group

The Association of Convenience Stores has criticised new HFSS guidance for continuing to lack clarity over the inclusion of symbol groups and franchises in the clampdown.

While the trade body has welcomed the long-awaited guidance, published by the Department of Health & Social Care this week, it told The Grocer it brought “no meaningful developments” to the ongoing uncertainty over the scope of the regulations.

Independent retailers with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from the new restrictions, but there has been confusion over whether they remain exempt when affiliated to a symbol group. Spar retail director Ian Taylor said at The Grocer’s recent HFSS Conference it had been forced to tell customers to take independent legal advice – with different lawyers offering different interpretations.

The new guidance seeks to address how the rule applies to symbols and franchises and sets out a definition of a franchise agreement.

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However, the ACS sees it as lacking sufficient detail to address the various arrangements retailers have with symbol groups, leaving the matter potentially down to the interpretation of enforcement officers.

“While the guidance provides some additional wording around the intention of the regulations when it comes to symbol and franchise operations, it is still recommended that retailers consult with their symbol group about whether legal advice has been issued on the status of their inclusion within the regulations,” said an ACS spokesman.

ACS CEO James Lowman said: “The guidance provides a lot of answers for the overall introduction of the rules, but there is still a lot of interpretation that will be left up to enforcement officers when the regulations come into force.”