Your Guide To: Importing Food Supplements Into the UK

January 11, 2024
Your Guide To: Importing Food Supplements Into the UK

Embarking on the journey of importing food supplements into the UK is a promising business venture, especially considering the growing demand for health and wellness products.

“Wellness is now worth up to £2.8 trillion worldwide,” says the Daily Telegraph. Since 2022, British consumers “spend £487 per head annually on ‘wellness’.”

However, navigating the intricate web of regulations and legal requirements can be a daunting task. In this comprehensive guide, we illuminate the essential aspects that traders need to be well-versed in when importing food supplements into the UK.

For tailored advice on how to streamline your trade operations, contact us now, or make use of our export control compliance services.

What Do We Mean By ‘Food Supplements’?

According to the Food Standards Agency, a food supplement is a concentrated source of vitamins, minerals, or other substances intended to supplement the normal diet.

Sold in dose form, these supplements contain nutrients like:

  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Amino acids
  • Essential fatty acids
  • Fibre
  • Various plants and herbal extracts

Food supplements imported into the UK serve various purposes; correcting nutritional deficiencies, maintaining adequate nutrient levels, and supporting specific physiological functions.

However, unlike medicinal products, they do not have a pharmacological action and are not intended to treat diseases.

In the UK, food supplements fall under general food law regulations, while in Northern Ireland, EU food law is applicable, as stipulated in the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Registering to Sell Food Supplements

In order to sell food supplements in the UK, you’ll need to register as a Food Business Operator (FBO) with your local authority.

This means your business is approved to sell, cook, store, handle, prepare, or distribute food, or other products for human consumption.

More guidance on this can be found on the Food Standards Agency website.

Taking Food Supplements To Market in the UK

When selling food supplements in UK markets, ensuring their safety and correct classification is a legal – and moral – obligation.

Unsafe supplements can pose severe health risks to consumers and jeopardise your business’s standing. Compliance with regulations is crucial; the UK government has specific guidelines on what is considered safe for consumption.

Adhering to these regulations:

  • Is a legal requirement,
  • Safeguards public health,
  • Builds trust with consumers.

Reputable Suppliers

Choosing reputable suppliers is foundational for the success of your food supplement business.

A trustworthy supplier is one that is registered as a business with local authorities – they should provide transparent and well-referenced invoices and receipts.

When sourcing online, extra caution is necessary. The allure of cheaper prices may lead to counterfeit or substandard products.

For instance, the illegal sale of 2,4-dinitrophenol (DNP) as a diet pill poses significant dangers. DNP is a toxic industrial chemical unfit for human consumption under UK law. Instances of such sales should be immediately reported to relevant authorities to prevent harm.

Keeping Records

Maintaining good records is both a bureaucratic necessity and a strategic move for accountability.

These records should include details of your supplement suppliers and customers. Having a clear paper trail, including invoices and delivery notes, ensures transparency and compliance.

Should enforcement authorities request documentation, being able to promptly produce these records demonstrates your commitment to regulatory standards.


Accurate and clear labelling is a non-negotiable aspect of selling food supplements.

Consumers rely on labels for crucial information about the product. If a supplement claims to have health benefits, it’s essential to comply with the Department of Health’s nutritional labelling policies.

Incorrect or misleading labelling can lead to legal issues and damage your business’s reputation. For instance, if a supplement claims to cure a human disease, it may be classified as a medicine, and require consultation with the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency).

If you receive a shipment of food supplements that are not labelled correctly, contact your supplier to arrange for a return, or do not accept the delivery.

Novel Foods

As it applies to food supplements, the term ‘novel foods’ refers to those without a history of consumption in Great Britain before May 1997.

Like other foods, food supplements are not required to demonstrate effectiveness before marketing.

However, if they fall into the category of genetically modified or ‘novel,’ they are subject to specific regulations, namely the Novel Foods Regulation 2015/2283.

If you have queries or need further information on novel foods, the Novel Foods Division of the Foods Standards Agency team can provide assistance via email.

Contaminants and Chemical Safety

Contaminants in food can pose serious health risks. The Contaminants in Food (England) Regulations 2013 establish regulatory limits for various contaminants, including:

  • Nitrate
  • Mycotoxins
  • Metals
  • 3-MCPD
  • Dioxins
  • PAHs

Staying within these limits is essential for the safety of food supplements.

The Food Standards Agency offers comprehensive business guidance on contaminants, providing crucial information for importers to ensure compliance.


Certain food supplements may contain products of animal origin (POAO), and importing such products involves additional considerations and certifications. This applies if your supplements include:

  • Meat
  • Honey
  • Milk
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Derivatives of the above

In cases like this, certification of the product, third country, and third country establishment (that produces the product) is necessary; furthermore, veterinary checks at the point of entry to GB may be mandatory.

For detailed guidance and certification requirements, the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) is a vital resource.

Specific products, such as gelatine capsules for human consumption, have separate import rules, and alternative regulations may apply to any other items containing milk, egg, meat, or fishery products.

Businesses dealing with gelatine capsules for pharmaceutical use should refer to the MHRA for information.

Importing From Certain Nations

Some food supplements or health foods, when sourced from particular countries, require further guidance and information. It’s imperative, if you intend to import any of these products, that you stay informed on the relevant regulations and geopolitical context.

Here are a couple that the Food Standards Agency provides specific guidance on.

Semax in Russia

Semax, used in Russia as a nutritional food in nasal drops for patients with serious conditions like Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease, is considered a medicine rather than a food item in the UK.

The MHRA mandates that Semax may only be sold or supplied in GB/ the UK if a medical marketing authorisation has been granted.

Lead Calabash Chalk and Clay

Calabash chalk, often consumed in parts of West Africa, especially as a remedy for morning sickness, poses concerns due to high lead levels ranging from 8.2 mg/kg to 16.1 mg/kg.

The Food Standards Agency advises against the consumption of calabash chalk, particularly for pregnant and breastfeeding women, considering lead levels over 1 mg/kg as unfit for human consumption.

Similar caution is extended to calabash clay, also known as ‘sikor’ or ‘shikor mati,’ consumed in some Asian and African communities, as it may contain harmful chemicals like lead and arsenic that could harm babies.

Legal Requirements When Importing Food Supplements Into the UK

Clearly, there is a significant amount of legislation surrounding the import and selling of food supplements in the UK. This information can be difficult to process; to help you, we’ve listed the relevant legal requirements, as stipulated by the Food Standards Agency.


Administrative Organisation

Legal Requirements

England Department of Health and Social Care
Scotland Food Standards Scotland
Wales Welsh Government
Northern Ireland Food Standards Agency

Changes From 1st January 2021

As of January 1, 2021, significant changes have taken place regarding the regulation of food supplements in the UK.

  • Before this date, food supplements were governed by legislation in each part of the UK, referring to the Annex of Directive 2002/46/EC, which outlined rules for vitamins and minerals used in food supplements.
  • The regulatory landscape shifted with the implementation of The Nutrition (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 and The Nutrition (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 on January 1, 2021.
  • These regulations transferred responsibilities for the regulation of food supplements from EU organisations involved in risk assessment and management processes to appropriate authorities and bodies in GB.
  • This change also aligned with the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.

Consequently, from January 1, 2021, the UK has established its own list of Vitamins and Minerals for use in Food Supplements, along with modification processes specific to Great Britain. These changes reflect the broader shifts in regulatory frameworks post-Brexit.

Safeguarding Your Operation

In the landscape of importing food supplements into the UK, safeguarding your operation is paramount. Staying abreast of evolving regulations, understanding the intricacies of novel foods, ensuring chemical safety, and navigating geopolitical considerations are essential to a seamless operation.

To protect your organisation from potential risks, it’s worth considering investment in comprehensive knowledge and expertise.

clearBorder offers import and export control compliance services designed to empower businesses in navigating complex regulations with confidence. Our consultancy services are tailored to enhance your understanding of regulatory frameworks, mitigate risks, and ensure a smooth flow of your operations.