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Childhood obesity

Update on our work with the CGF’s Collaboration for Healthier Lives (CHL UK) Coalition

Through our partnership with The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), we are exploring opportunities for people to be healthier. This report, produced with the CGF, summarises the latest findings and examples of on-the-ground actions.

Our work with the Collaboration for Healthier Lives

At Impact on Urban Health, we believe that we can remove obstacles to good health by making urban areas healthier places for everyone to live. Our partnership with Collaboration for Healthier Lives (CHL UK) is one project in our wider childhood obesity programme that is focused on changing the food environments in places where children and families spend their time, so that eating well is the easiest – not hardest – thing to do. 

CHL UK is an initiative created by The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), a global, parity-based industry network that is driven by its members to encourage the global adoption of practices and standards that serves the consumer goods industry worldwide. It brings together the CEOs and senior management of some 400 retailers, manufacturers, service providers, and other stakeholders across 70 countries, and it reflects the diversity of the industry in geography, size, product category and format. 

The CGF’s Collaboration for Healthier Lives (CHL) Coalition is about making it easier for people around the world to adopt healthier lives for themselves and their families. It’s about making healthier decisions easier and habitual for people in every community around the world. It is a global movement led by manufacturers, retailers, public health authorities and local communities, delivering local movements in communities worldwide. There are currently nine CHL initiatives running, including CHL UK. 

Foreword

The world has significantly changed since 2018, when the Collaboration for Healthier Lives UK (CHL UK) first came together as a collective with public health bodies, charities, and academics. But creating opportunities for people to be healthy has never been so important.  

We have continued to tackle the health challenges facing the nation, through real-world application of evidence about what works to improve consumer diets. This progress update outlines the interventions and analysis that have taken place since our first report in 2020. In it, we reflect on the valuable insights gained but also the limitations of the current approach and how we can move forward as an industry and embrace more radical change. 

For those who are already CHL UK members, we hope this progress update inspires a renewed focus on collaboration and a desire to push further with transparent reporting and ambitious target-setting. If your company is not yet a member, we’d love to talk to you about getting involved. Together we can, and should, build healthier lives for people in the UK. 

CHL UK Co-Chairs Richard Hall, Danone and Karen Poole, Tesco. 

Introduction

Executive summary

Since 2018, CHL has brought together retailers and manufacturers to explore what action they could take, individually and collectively, to improve the health of UK consumers. Through genuine collaboration, we aim to inspire retailers and manufacturers to explore, to innovate and to scale approaches that improve the healthiness of food sold across the UK.   

Our first Collaboration for Healthier Lives in the UK (CHL UK) report was published in 2020 and shared findings from multiple supermarket trials designed to make healthier products accessible, affordable and appealing to customers.   

This progress update highlights new trials and analysis that have taken place since our initial report in 2020. We outline lessons learnt, the barriers faced, as well as what needs to happen next to drive bigger and faster impact on health. The update also reveals a shift towards sustainability since the first report, a focus which continues to grow and is reflected in the case studies below. 

We also spoke to a range of retailers and manufacturers to get their perspectives on where the industry needs to go next on health, drawn primarily from the food industry but also including CHL UK members addressing health from a non-food perspective.

Prioritising health

Why should the food industry prioritise health?

Huge changes to the environment in which UK food retailers and manufacturers are operating over the last two years mean that progress on health has been slower than expected. The continued economic aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit, exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and related supply chain issues, are having far-reaching implications for UK companies, as well as for people and communities.  

We welcome the efforts of CHL members who have continued to invest and innovate during such a turbulent period, so they can offer healthier, affordable options to customers. However, it is clear that, for some, priorities have shifted and plans to test or roll out health initiatives have been put on hold or scaled back, and evidence of impact is lacking. So why is it so important to refocus attention on the health agenda?  

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 this 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. Recent research by The Food Foundation shows that the amount of people who don’t have access to enough nutritious food increased by 57% since January 2022, with one in five households with children experiencing a lack of food in the six months from January 2022. 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 below.  

Our call to leading UK food companies is to demonstrate your progress.

CHL UK Co-Chairs Richard Hall, Danone and Karen Poole, Tesco

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 on foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) to come into force. CHL UK members welcome the creation of a level playing field that enables food companies’ action on health and galvanises innovation to offer customers greater access to healthier options. The case studies below show how they are embracing these opportunities.  

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. We commend the leadership shown by Tesco and Sainsbury’s to go ahead and implement changes from autumn 2022 as planned, which will go some way to mitigating against this. 

It’s been a tough couple of years for the industry, Covid has definitely got in the way, but there is so much that we still don’t know that we can learn from working together through CHL UK.

CHL UK Co-Chairs Richard Hall, Danone and Karen Poole, Tesco

What we can learn

What we can learn from industry trials

The case studies in this report highlight a selection of interventions undertaken by CHL UK members McCain, Premier Foods, Sainsbury’s, Samworth Brothers, Superdrug, Tesco and Unilever and the lessons the wider industry can learn from them. For example, trials which have run since 2020 have shown that: 

  • Capitalising on the brand recognition of shopping basket favourites and creating ‘better-for-you’ alternatives to popular products successfully increased sales of healthier foods.  
  • Promotional activity can drive increased sales of healthy and sustainable products, but more needs to be done to work out how to sustain this uplift once the promotion ends. 
  • Reformulation – changing the ingredients of popular products – by food retailers and manufacturers can substantially reduce calories without having a negative impact on taste, quality, or sales.  

These results offer important insights, but also demonstrate that trials on individual products are not enough to shift consumer purchasing and diets long-term.

1.5 million

Between April 2021 and April 2022, 1.5 million UK consumers purchased a healthier version of Premier Foods’ Mr Kipling brand cakes.

40 billion

Since 2018, 142 different Samworth Brothers’ products have been reformulated, resulting in more than 40 billion calories being removed from their products sold in Tesco.

78%

Sainsbury's 60p fruit and vegetable intervention created a significant short-term sales uplift. In January 2020, the intervention increased portions of promoted fruit and vegetables sold by 78%.

Current limitations

Limitations of the current trialling approach

While product reformulation is welcome, it’s difficult to know whether progress is really being made. This is because companies are focusing on individual products without saying which proportion of their overall sales are from healthier product categories – and if this is changing. 

We can also see from this set of trials that when promotions – which made products more affordable and visible – end, so too does the uplift in healthier outcomes. Ultimately, much broader category-wide changes, including whole product ranges and harnessing all the levers available to retailers, such as promotions, pricing, placement, and product availability, are needed to create healthier and more accessible options for customers. And that requires retailers and manufacturers to work closely together.  

It is increasingly clear that far more radical change is needed to achieve impact on the nation’s health at scale. 

Our interviews with retailers and manufacturers uncovered some of these more radical changes that are already happening. An exciting example included investment in robust data systems to enable joined-up decision-making on health across every category and department.  

65%

Tesco recently set a target to increase the proportion of sales from healthier products, as defined by the UK Government’s HFSS classification, from 58% to 65% by 2025. 

60%

Retailers representing 60% of the UK retail market have now set targets around the proportion of healthier product category sales achieved.

The need to do more

Now is the time to work together. Real impact happens when we collaborate to solve common challenges, and share, knowledge and data and insights. Together, we can leverage our collective resources to build healthier lives for everyone in the UK.  

We’ve identified three clear ways in which the food industry can come together to make real progress on health:  

1. Collaborate on the big questions 

We want the industry to come together to define the big questions that we have yet to answer which will help us achieve impact and move forwards on health. Such questions could be:  

  • What combination of approaches move people towards healthier diets?  
  • What are the profitable sweet spots on healthier, sustainable, and affordable diets?  
  • What underlying capabilities and systems should businesses invest in to make improvements on health and sustainability? 

Later this year CHL will convene the CEOs of its members to agree the key 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.  

We ask our member CEOs to commit to attend those sessions, bringing the challenges they are grappling with that greater collaboration could help solve. And we ask members to ensure teams leading on health within their business have the support, resource and influence over the wider business they need to put those plans into action. 

To get to scale quickly we need to get people together in a room, in a pre-competitive environment, and keep bringing new information to show what can be done. That will build and develop our knowledge base.

CHL UK Co-Chairs Richard Hall, Danone and Karen Poole, Tesco

2. Make reporting more transparent 

To facilitate learning and progress, we urge members to commit to full transparency around the healthiness of their sales, using government-endorsed models. While no nutrient profiling model is perfect, it is only through being transparent and through comparing their progress with peers that companies can truly gauge their progress.  

3. Set ambitious targets 

Meaningful target setting around the proportion of healthier product category sales achieved, in both volume and value terms, is a key way in which we can move this agenda forward. For example, Tesco has recently set a target to increase the proportion of sales from healthier products, as defined by the UK Government’s HFSS classification, from 58% to 65% by 2025. 

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. 

Next steps

The interventions undertaken by CHL UK members 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.  

There are clear steps the food industry can and should take to move forward on health – and it all starts with collaboration. Only by working together can companies commit with confidence to the more transparent reporting and meaningful targets that are needed to build healthier lives for everyone in the UK. 

In collaboration with

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Case studies

The following case studies outline some of the interventions tested by the group since 2020. In each we highlight the approach taken and broader learnings. Where available, data and results are included. However, some trials were delayed, and detailed data has not been provided. Data from the Tesco trial has been independently analysed by the University of Oxford, while all other case studies used internal evaluation methods.