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HMRC internal manual

VAT Food

HM Revenue & Customs
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Items benefiting from the relief: what is food?: food supplements (dietary supplements): general

There are an increasing number of products on the market that are concentrated sources of nutrients for supplementing the intake of those nutrients from the normal diet. These food supplements occupy a grey area of VAT law as some are food, and therefore zero-rated, and some are not.

Frequently food supplements, while not sold to relieve any specific medical condition, and making no specific medicinal claims, are taken for therapeutic reasons - to prevent or compensate for some real or imagined nutritional deficiency. Vitamin supplements, for example, fall within this category. While they are not what most people would consider strictly medicines, most would not be thought of by the average person as food.

In the early case of Marfleet Refining Co Ltd (LEE/73/0033) the tribunal acknowledged the existence of a borderline between food and food supplements when it found that cod liver oil products (capsules and syrup), although undoubtedly having nutritional value, were not eligible for relief as food. Instead, it classed them as dietary supplements.

Some products, like cod liver oil, are considered to be non-food, whatever form they are supplied in. Others may be accepted as food when supplied in a food-like form, like granules, but not when supplied in a form which most people would not associate with food - perhaps as a tablet or capsule.

In the case of Ayurveda Ltd (LON/88/1372X) the tribunal found that a herbal/fruit concentrate designed to be eaten either by the spoonful or as a spread for bread was food because it was held to be likely to be seen as food by the average person by reason of its taste and appearance. Conversely, a companion product in pill form was held not to be food, as tablets and capsules would not generally be considered to be food.