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HMRC internal manual

VAT Food

Items benefiting from the relief: what is food?: food supplements (dietary supplements): powdered supplements

The NuTriVene-D tribunal touched on a number of the points concerning food supplements in its ruling on a dietary supplement in the form of a powder.

In Mrs S Ridal (LON/01/7038), the tribunal held that a dietary supplement (NuTriVene-D) for Down’s Syndrome sufferers was a food and was zero-rated. The product was a powder that was mixed with other foodstuffs for consumption and was within the definition of food. HMRC accept that such a product, with a nutritional value, supplied and consumed in a form and manner that most people would associate with food is zero-rated. Had it been supplied in a different format, for example as tablets or capsules, we would have argued that the product was a standard-rated supplement.

In the case of Hunter Ridgeley (LON/94/2028) the tribunal considered the liability of algae available in either tablet or powdered form. The tribunal could not find that the algae fell within the zero-rating provisions. The tribunal decided that, although the product had nutritional properties (9% of a person’s daily requirement of protein), the ordinary educated Englishman or broad minded taxpayer would not consider it to be food. See also the Nature’s Balance (LON/93/2953A) decision.

In the case of Arthro Vite Ltd (MAN/96/1190 & 2453), a health food supplement in powder form taken as a drink was held to be food because of its high nutritional value - 79% protein. Its form and taste both supported this conclusion. However, the presentation of the product led the tribunal to comment that had the product not had such a high nutritional value we would probably have come to a different conclusion. You must note that a powdered supplement in a drinkable format may qualify for standard rating as a beverage, subject to consideration about whether it meets the beverage test (see VFOOD7520).

This has led policy to accept that powdered food supplements can be zero-rated if the product:-

  • has a nutritional content; and/or
  • provides a significant dietary requirement (such as recommended daily fibre); and
  • is consumed in a manner commonly associated with food, for example, it is mixed in with other foods as an ingredient (as in the NuTriVene-D case) or it is mixed with water and drunk (as in the Arthrovite case); and
  • is not otherwise standard-rated (that is, as a preparation for making a beverage).

Where a powdered supplement is not consumed in a manner commonly associated with food we would not accept it as zero-rated.