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The food and drink industry in Scotland is facing the UK’s most draconian clampdown yet on HFSS foods, after ministers presented plans for a sweeping crackdown on promotions.

Under the proposals, revealed in a new consultation today, the Scottish government said it would ban all promotions of HFSS products. These would include bans on temporary price reductions and meal deals – two moves discarded after being viewed as too extreme by the current Westminster government.

Elsewhere the ban echoes the scrapping of HFSS promotions in prominent locations in England, but gives business 12 months to phase out the promotions of multibuy deals.

There was some good news for industry bodies fighting the plans, however. The Scottish government said it would use the same nutrient profiling model definition as that being used in England to define the products in scope. Previously, ministers had threatened a wider definition of food that could have brought many more products into the firing line.

However, the move is still a crushing blow to opponents, who claim the deal will lead to pressure on food prices and retailers just as inflation appears to be slowing down.

Scottish ministers blamed the “poor response” from industry to voluntary measures to make food healthier for going ahead with the proposals, with the plans due to come into force in 2025.

More on HFSS:

Food Standards Scotland (FSS) said evidence of the success of voluntary approaches overall was “not good”.

An impact assessment published by the Scottish government today claimed the move would reduce the average calorie intake in Scotland by 613 calories per person per week.

The moves come despite despite first minister Humza Yousaf pausing the plans last year as he promised a “reset” with businesses.

An industry source told The Grocer the “writing has been on the wall” for a while on the plans, despite Yousaf’s alleged new approach.

“There have been a series of meetings with industry and it’s been made pretty clear that they were minded to go ahead with the more draconian elements of the plans.

“Ever since the UK government went ahead we knew this was coming and that it would be a more extreme version.

“In the impact assessment the government talks about how the consultation will now focus on how the plans come in, not if, so it doesn’t look like there is much chance of this not happening.”

England left behind

Sources said the fact the moves needed secondary, not primary, legislation, meant they could be brought in relatively quickly, although the timeframe was still “optimistic”.

A supermarket source told The Grocer the plans were “much worse” than retailers had envisaged.

However, Scotland’s move echoes plans in Wales for a crackdown on HFSS that would also go further than England, leaving Westminster out on a limb compared with the rest of the UK.


The Scottish government initially revealed plans to restrict HFSS promotions in 2018 under then first minister Nicola Sturgeon but its plans have suffered a series of delays, including from the pandemic.

The Scottish government said the delays had allowed it to take into account developments such as Brexit, covid, cost of living and the introduction of restrictions in England.

It said it would work closely with local authorities who will be tasked with enforcing the regime. The Grocer has previously revealed how the more limited crackdown in England has faced major problems of policing because of lack of local authority enforcement officers on the ground.

Jenni Minto, Scottish government minister for public health and women’s health, said the politicians tried to “strike a balance between economic growth and health in Scotland”.

“Promotions such as multibuy offers or placement at checkouts can directly influence the choices we make – that is what they are designed to do,” she said.

“Evidence shows promotions are often applied to less healthy food and drinks. This can encourage us to buy things that we do not need and to overlook cheaper, healthier alternatives. By restricting the promotion of less healthy food and drink where they are sold to the public, we can encourage healthier options and make it easier for people to eat well.”

Regulations will differ between Scotland and rest of UK

FDF Scotland CEO David Thomson said: “Today’s consultation from the Scottish government creates a different set of trading regulations for businesses selling into the Scottish stores compared to that in other parts of the UK.

“These proposals will disproportionately impact small Scottish food and drink producers and will make selling food in Scotland more complex and costly for everyone.

“FDF will work hard to shape these regulations through the consultation to ensure they take into account the impact on our businesses. At the same time our Reformulation for Health programme will be there to continue to support Scotland’s food and drink businesses to make their products healthier.”

Ewan MacDonald-Russell, deputy head of the Scottish Retail Consortium, added: “Scottish ministers appear determined to put up prices on a range of products despite consumers reeling from a cost of living crisis. These proposals will prevent retailers competing on price on any of the products caught by these rules, meaning shoppers miss out both on the benefits of competition but also from any falls in inflation. The restrictions on placing these products in-store will make life harder for Scottish producers who will now have to compete with international brands with much greater consumer recognition.

“Despite endless engagement, Scottish ministers have ignored business voices on this issue. These disproportionate restrictions follow a bumper hike in business rate bills for medium-sized and larger shops, as well as a mooted new surtax on food and drink retailers. All this will hinder rather than help retailers’ ability to keep down prices for Scotland’s shoppers during a cost of living crisis, the last thing Scotland’s hard-pressed consumers need.”


The Scottish Grocers’ Federation welcomed the exemptions for retailers with fewer than 50 staff, and location exemptions for stores smaller than 2,000 sq ft. However, it warned that those hit by the regulations could be put at a significant disadvantage.

CEO Pete Cheema said: “While we welcome the exemptions for businesses with fewer than 50 staff and under 2,000 sq ft, 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.”

ACS CEO James Lowman said: “We are disappointed that the Scottish government plans to go even further with restrictions on HFSS products in stores than the rules that are already in place in England. This will cause additional confusion for retailers operating on both sides of the border. 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.”