ACS chief executive James Lowman

The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has warned that restrictions on where food products can be sited in some convenience stores in England will have a significant impact on more than one in five local shops.

The Department for Health & Social Care (DHSC) has published its response to a consultation on restricting placement of certain high fat, salt and sugar products at store entrances, the end of aisles and at tills, as well as banning mechanisms such as buy one get one free deals

In its response to the consultation ACS called for exemptions from siting restrictions for smaller stores because the regulations would be hard to comply with.

The DHSC response includes exemptions for the majority of convenience stores which are either under 2,000sq ft in size, or run by a business with fewer than 50 full time equivalent employees, but with franchise or symbol group stores deemed to be part of the larger brand owner business.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “We are pleased that our case for exempting small stores has been accepted in principle, but based on how we expect these to be interpreted we estimate that these restrictions will still apply to between 5,000 and 10,000 convenience stores depending on the definition used for franchises. We are concerned that the government’s consultation response does not show an understanding of the independence of symbol group retailers.

“Retailers are now facing difficult decisions on how to lay out their stores, despite little evidence that these restrictions will be effective. For many communities, the convenience store is not only the last remaining shop but the last remaining service, and every new bureaucratic burden makes life harder for them and ultimately threatens the provision of all of the goods they sell, including healthy food options which are a growing part of the convenience store offer.

“Even for the majority of convenience stores that will thankfully be exempted from location restrictions, there will be changes to the way that promotions are configured by them, their wholesalers and manufacturers. We are working to clarify exactly which mechanisms will be outlawed beyond the oft-quoted ‘buy one get one free’ deals that are actually very rarely used in our sector. While we are pleased to have worked effectively with government to mitigate the impact of these restrictions, we should be clear that we have reached a new level of government intervention in the way our members trade.”

The products that cannot be promoted or located in certain parts of the store are based on Public Health England’s Nutrient Profiling Model and will be confirmed shortly.

The new rules are scheduled to take effect from April 2022, with regulations tabled in October 2021. DHSC is consulting on a total online advertising restriction for products high in fat, sugar and salt, and ACS is responding to this.