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Food market

Childhood obesity

Time for radical change: learnings from the CGF’s Collaboration for Healthier Lives

We’re exploring how the food industry can create opportunities for people to be healthy by transforming the food it sells.

The food industry approach to promoting good health is increasingly divided. On one hand, progressive food companies have made commitments that put children’s health centre-stage. On the other, some continue to oppose that progress and put our nation’s health at risk. Kelloggs’ recent attempts to sue the Government over incoming restrictions on foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) are an example of the hollowness of some of the commitments made by industry towards making progress on health. Others are taking more of a stand. Tesco and Sainsbury’s commitments to stick to the Government’s original timetable for implementing bans on HFSS multibuy promotions stand out. Many supermarkets are now setting ambitious targets for increasing the proportion of their sales which come from healthy products so that it’s healthy options that are the most available and affordable, rather than unhealthy ones. 

Our work with The Consumer Goods Forum’s Collaboration for Healthier Lives (CHL UK) shows that companies must take more radical action if they are to make shopping baskets significantly healthier and deliver on targets where those are in place. In a cost of living crisis that will make accessing healthy food even more challenging for families on low incomes, it’s more important than ever that the industry collaborates to deliver solutions that work. 

In a cost of living crisis that will make accessing healthy food even more challenging for families on low incomes, it’s more important than ever that the industry collaborates to deliver solutions that work.

We’ve published a progress update on this work, which highlights new trials and analysis that have taken place since our initial report with CHL UK in 2020. In this blog, Matt Towner outlines three things we’ve learned from these new trials over the past year.

1. There are more reasons than ever to prioritise health in the food industry

Children’s health depends on it

We know that where we live, work, and grow up impacts how healthy we are. All children should have enough, nutritious food to eat. Yet access to healthy food varies between neighbourhoods, and the gap in health outcomes between people living in the lowest and highest income areas continues to widen. Children in low-income areas are more likely to be flooded with unhealthy options where they live, play and go to school.

The cost-of-living crisis is hitting many families hard, with the worst yet to come, and threatens to make health inequalities even starker. There has never been a more important time for action to make a healthy, nutritious diet accessible and affordable for every child and family. 

There’s a business opportunity for those that embrace it

Investment in healthier products has historically often been targeted at wealthier consumers. Yet consumers, whatever their incomes, are now looking to food companies to help them access healthier diets. To really level the playing field, the food available on our supermarket shelves not only needs to be affordable, but also nutritious. There is a big market for healthier options at an affordable price point, as demonstrated by the success of individual trials on healthier product promotions outlined in the latest CHL UK progress update. 

It’s on investors’ agendas

Over the past two years, COVID-19 catapulted health issues to the top of the national agenda and greater climate crisis awareness has increased scrutiny of the sustainability of our food system. More and more people are concerned about the health and environmental impact of the food they eat and companies face reputational risk if they don’t address these issues. Investors especially increasingly demand greater progress on health from their portfolios, including consistent reporting by businesses on the healthiness of their sales and the setting and meeting of ambitious targets.

Increased regulation is coming

Governments around the world are increasingly regulating the food industry. In the UK, companies are preparing for restrictions to come into force on foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS). However, the disappointing decision from the UK Government to delay the multibuy ban and advertising restrictions until 2024 risks these positive benefits; a delay the UK cannot afford when action on health is so urgently needed.

2. The current approach isn’t going far enough

The actions currently being taken by the food industry to trial ways of introducing or promoting healthier options in stores are often small-scale or limited to individual products. Looking at the results of these trials can provide useful insights but ultimately, they lack the impact needed to improve the healthiness of shopping baskets in the long term.

Retailers and manufacturers will need to work closely together to make changes across whole product ranges rather than individual products if healthier options are to become more accessible for everyone. These changes could include which items are on promotion, where they’re placed in stores and how widely they’re available. Companies must also invest in infrastructure, such as data systems, that give those making decisions on which products to stock or promote information on how healthy products are. Lastly, they must motivate teams across their businesses to take action so health is a priority for all staff.

Retailers and manufacturers will need to work closely together to make changes across whole product ranges rather than individual products if healthier options are to become more accessible for everyone.

3. Collaboration is the key

By looking at the barriers and challenges faced by participants in this set of trials, we were able to identify three clear ways in which the food industry can come together to make real progress on health: 

Collaborate on the big questions

Later this year CHL will convene the CEOs of its members to agree the big questions that we need to answer together to make the much faster progress on health that our nation needs, and a renewed vision for how collaboration can best happen.

Make reporting more transparent

To facilitate learning and progress, CHL urges its members to commit to full transparency around the healthiness of their sales, using government-endorsed models. It is only through being transparent and through comparing their progress with peers that companies can truly gauge their progress.

Set ambitious targets

Meaningful target setting around the proportion of healthier product category sales achieved is a key way in which we can move this agenda forward. Retailers representing 60% of the UK retail market have now set targets, and CHL members have cited the benefits of these targets in enabling progress across their businesses. We urge other retailers and manufacturers to follow suit.

Conclusion

You can read the latest CHL UK progress update for the full interventions undertaken by CHL UK members since the first report in 2020. These case studies offer important insights into how we can make healthier diets more accessible. However, these trials have also taught us that unless the food industry embraces radical change, the impact on our nation’s health will be limited.  

Matt Towner

Questions about our work with The Consumer Goods Forum?

Contact Matt Towner, our Portfolio Manager

Contact Matt