By Mark Walker, Area Manager – Food

When I reflect on what’s happening across the UK, obesity is talked about a lot, and I don’t think we’re in a great place as a nation. Did you know obesity costs the NHS over £6 billion a year!

The High in Fat, Sugar and Salt (HFSS) regulation comes into force in England later this year and it’s part of Government plans to tackle obesity-related illnesses. It means stores in mainland England with more than 2,000 sq ft of selling space will need to make some big changes to where they display some products – that’s 15 stores in my area and around 1,500 nationally.

We’ve a lot of work ahead of us as a business, to make sure we continue to trade legally when the regulation starts.

What does the HFSS regulation mean for us

You might have read in the news recently that the Government has announced delays to some elements of the HFSS regulation as they seek to ensure the new rules don’t worsen the cost-of-living crisis. This refers to the changes around promoting HFSS products and advertising regulations. There’s no delay to changes to location of HFSS products in-store and online.

​​​​So, from 1 October this year, pre-packaged high fat, sugar, salt products such as chocolate, sugary drinks and crisps can’t be displayed in locations where we see lots of customers pass through our stores – e.g. near the front door, near the checkouts, or on our promotion ends. And display units on the shop floor will also only be allowed in authorised places.

To get ready for this, in our impacted stores we’re ‘relaying’ the ambient merchandising space (where products are displayed on the shopfloor), as well as updating our product category planograms (what products are displayed on our shelves). For many stores, this is a massive piece of work.

Hearts and minds

There’s definitely interest across my store team around HFSS, and that grows as we relay the ambient sections in more and more stores. It’s always the way… when you’ve got your first stores going through a relay, store managers further down the relay schedule want to know how it went. So for those who completed them first, it’s inevitably a valuable experience to share.

My store managers and their teams are making the relays happen, which has brought them closer to the HFSS regulation and what it all means. Some have gained an even deeper understanding of HFSS and been seconded into supporting project roles to help with the relays. It’s fantastic to see them getting this development opportunity.

It’s all in the planning

Like many things on this scale, the initial store relays were a bit clunky until we found our feet. The HFSS regulation is government driven, and as a business, we had to come up with a way to engage our teams about it and make it happen. Our Strategy and Transformation team have a robust plan to do this – and that’s really important.

I’ve shared this plan with my store teams to bring the regulation to life with two-way communication through regular Teams calls to talk about what the changes would look and feel like in their stores – this store walk video really helped us all understand what it would mean.

Before we made any changes we did surveys to understand what equipment we had in our stores, such as shelving, so we didn’t get any surprises when we relayed them. I’m pleased to say we’ve not had to abort a planned store relay so far, and that’s a great testament to our planning.

Listen, learn and adapt

As we’ve picked up pace, we’ve captured learnings on what worked well, and what didn’t go to plan. We’ve adapted ‘on-the-go’ to make sure we move forwards and fix any bugs for the store relays further down the line. Hats off to our HFSS Projects Leads who’ve supported us and reacted to our questions and proposals really quickly.

Of course we’ve have encountered challenges along the way. For example, when we started to move products and categories around the store and changed how much space was allocated to them, we found ourselves with some overstocks which inevitably ended-up back in stores’ warehouses. This stock can’t be forgotten about and needs to be managed through the business by our store teams.

Don’t underestimate the power of curiosity

My advice to my fellow area managers and their teams is that our colleagues need to be consciously aware of the HFSS regulation and the many changes it brings. They have to be curious about what’s happening – and that curiosity takes them to a place where their understanding becomes much deeper.

It’s not just in store – when we go home from work, HFSS touches all colleagues in some way or another: from watching the news, visiting other retailers, or chatting with family and friends. It all begins to resonate and make more sense as you go about your daily life. All this helps our colleagues have the right conversations with their customers about HFSS. I’m absolutely certain our customers will understand the importance of what we’re changing and why we’re doing it.

Our customers won’t be able to see HFSS products on the promotion ends from 1 October, and they’ll likely shop our aisles much more. But this’ll give them more choice in what to buy and the opportunity to make some positive changes and improved choices in how they shop and what they eat.

For more information of HFSS and the work we’re doing to get ready for the regulation, visit our Colleague Site Page.