Research shows that despite recognising the need for reduction, consumer appetite for unhealthy food remains

Amid incoming high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) legislation and the government’s recent abandonment of a proposed salt and sugar tax, strong consumer demand for HFSS products remains.

New research by innovation intelligence platform Vypr has identified that despite planned changes to product promotions, 89% of consumers say they would still buy sweets or chocolate if they weren’t on offer. Despite this, most consumers think that less fat, sugar and salt is a good idea with 71% of those surveyed positive about reducing these in supermarket foods. The findings show that appetite for such products remains strong, but that most shoppers are taking heed of ingredients, with increasing focus on healthier, unique products that still meet demand.

Conducted among a sample of 5,000 of Vypr’s nationally representative panel of 65,000 consumers, the research also confirmed affordability is a bigger barrier than taste when it comes to making healthy food and drink choices. Asked what might stop them from buying healthier food products, 44% cited price and that they are less affordable. In comparison, only 17% said that they don’t taste as good.

Ben Davies, founder at Vypr, said: “The writing is on the wall for retailers and manufacturers. The government’s ruling out of a proposed salt and sugar tax as part of the National Food Strategy heightens the opportunity for them to seize the day.

“With increasing public concern over this issue and long-term brand reputation at stake, the onus is now on brands and suppliers to push things forward and not lose momentum – we shouldn’t have to rely on government legislation to drive this change. It’s a great opportunity to bring about the next phase of food and drink innovation.”

The findings align with Vypr’s wider consumer research around the National Food Strategy which identified that 83% believe there is a need for new or reformulated food products that are healthier.

The National Food Strategy itself referenced a poll that found 63% of people in the UK would be in favour of the existing Sugary Drinks Levy being extended to include other sugary foods like biscuits. Vypr’s own research confirms this with 71% of consumers being supportive of the Sugar Levy being extended to other sugary foods, showing that consumers find this issue important, and so companies need to adapt to their views.

Vypr’s research further identified that consumers are checking labels but have little idea about new restrictions on unhealthy food. Nearly three quarters (73%) say they check nutrition labels when purchasing food products, showing a shift towards increased awareness of healthy ingredients, despite appetite for HFSS products. Only 15% of consumers are aware of the incoming HFSS restrictions, demonstrating the scale of the innovation opportunity for food and drink companies.

Davies added: “Changing legislation is bringing with it an enormous amount of opportunity for success for retailers and suppliers. There are so many different variables when you’re looking at raw materials and ingredients. Sugar is 2,000 years old, so why are we still making products out of sugar? There’s lots of interesting ways of getting sweetness and texture into products. Reframing innovation in a scientific way is the only way the industry and public health are both going to win long term.

“As confusing as recent policy decisions may appear, a clear picture is emerging – innovation will be the driving force of success amidst a constantly shifting environment.”

Phased HFSS legislation is due to be implemented between October 2022 and January 2024 and will commence with in-store location restrictions for HFSS products. The Welsh government recently announced additional restrictions on HFSS promotions to those set to be introduced in England.

More guidance on navigating HFSS legislation can be found in the HFSS Guide.