High Fat Sugar Salt. HFSS. Legislation on HFSS products devised to help tackle the obesity crisis has been through the ringer over the years. It feels to some that Westminster has changed its mind every five minutes on how and what the rules will look like, and the big one most recently, when they’ll come into effect.
So how should brands navigate the current limbo period?
(If you’ve landed here in need of hard facts and expert advice, we can highly recommend this very useful resource from the Food & Drink Federation.)
Let’s sum up – what do we know in a nutshell?
Following the restrictions on retail placement, which started in October 2022, the long-awaited restrictions on price and advertising are set to follow in October 2025. For brands without big TV budgets or working with PR agencies like Pier, this is still significant as the legislation applies to any paid activity online – from paid influencer partnerships on TikTok to boosting your Instagram posts. Marketing HFSS goods will be tricky.
What have other brands done so far?
Innovation has been steadily emerging from the major brands as a response. It remains to be seen how these new compliant products will perform with consumers. The brand halo effect may carry the sales in the short-term, but who will stay the course very much remains to be seen.
What about marketing HFSS?
In the long-term, once the legislation is in effect, there are likely still ways to leverage paid moments in your marketing strategy through a savvy brand plan. The (current) guidance is clear – you won’t be able to advertise, in any way, the product. But depending on the currency your brand holds, there are ways you can leverage paid.
So, what should we do now?
While for many it is business as usual for marketers of non-HFSS compliant products, we think now is an excellent time to lay the foundations for a strong, long-term brand plan to help mitigate the future risk to sales.
Here’s three ideas that could help:
Put the brand purpose front and centre
The new restrictions will not just prevent brands from marketing HFSS-compliant products, but will also restrict ads for brands that are strongly associated with HFSS products unless it relates to brand incentives or experiences. This means it will be paramount for brands to incorporate purpose-driven incentives into their strategies.
Consumers are already looking to brands to make a positive difference to the world. In order to guarantee cut-through, brands will need to rely on initiatives for social responsibility and good causes. Whether that’s driving sustainability measures or supporting and partnering with charities, by putting the brand’s purpose front and centre, brands will still be able to drive awareness and reach their desired audiences.
Now is the time to start building an authentic partnership with a cause that aligns with the brand’s core value to craft deeper connection with customers and drive brand loyalty.
Levelling up owned media
With owned media exempt from the HFSS restrictions, it will be more important than ever for brands to up their social media game.
Owned channels are vital for allowing brands to create a platform to engage directly with their audiences, to build stronger relationships with customers and increase brand loyalty. It will be essential for brands to invest in a robust organic social media strategy to maintain brand awareness and reach audiences by keeping the channels fresh and offering consumers a reason to engage with them. Between now and October 2025, brands should uplift their organic strategies with a paid social plan while they still can to concentrate their efforts on growing the channels. They should also look at the right platforms to be on, for example finding audiences on TikTok and Threads.
Establish brand advocacy
Influencer marketing continues to go from strength to strength and it remains a key strategy for raising brand awareness and reaching new audiences as influencers continue to build a loyal and trusting consumer following.
However, with the new restrictions, brands will no longer be able to work with creators in a paid-for capacity (that includes gifting) across HFSS products. So how can brands use influencers? Now is a crucial time for brands to engage with influencers to create authentic brand love. By the time the restrictions come into place, this strategy will help brands establish a community of genuine fans who will continue to organically show their love for the products and brand through user-generated content.
So, while the new restrictions will pose a challenge for food and drink brands, we think now is the time for brands to get creative and innovate their approach to reaching consumers.
If you’re looking for support to level up your brand and organic social strategies, then #Pierweare.