Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility Can supermarkets help turn the tide on obesity? - Impact on Urban Health
Woman going to the supermarket

Childhood obesity

Can supermarkets help turn the tide on obesity?

15 October 2020

A report from one year of the Collaboration for Healthier Lives in the UK (CHL UK)

In brief

Retailers and manufacturers came together to improve the health of their consumers, a collaboration facilitated through their membership with The Consumer Goods Forum. They ran a series of trials over the course of a year, starting in Lambeth and Southwark but with a view to scale the interventions that worked.

 

Executive summary

Companies trialled a total of 34 interventions using a range of approaches to improve the healthiness of consumer baskets. In-store trials were prioritised and included changes to pricing and promotions, availability, choice architecture, shelf and nutritional labelling as well as social feedback techniques. With support from Guy’s & St Thomas’ Foundation (through Impact on Urban Health), the University of Oxford evaluated some of these trials (see summary table below). Together, they found that:

  • Companies were able to influence the healthiness of consumer shopping baskets
  • Impactful trials could be relatively simple and commercially sustainable
  • Trials that both increase the purchase of healthier foods and decrease the purchase of less healthy foods are required to support healthier diets
  • Trials using pricing and promotional tactics, increasing the availability of healthier options and some choice architecture trials have shown a significant and positive impact
  • Whilst there remains outstanding questions about these trials – including how long the improvements can be sustained – we can clearly see the potential for companies to improve consumer health and shape consumer demand
  • Not all trials were successful, and the analyses suggests that shelf labelling and social feedback tactics may not be as impactful unless paired with other changes

Results from successful trials

13%

more fruit and vegetables sold

19%

fewer standard chips sold

22%

fewer packets of confectionery sold

This collaboration has shown that when companies take responsibility for public health, and are more ambitious in their attempts to improve it, they can have a positive impact. We’ve seen that good intentions aren’t enough when internal policies and priorities across departments don’t align to support consumer health.

There is also great variation in efforts across the sector and more progressive companies are held back by an absence of regulation to level the playing field and mitigate commercial risk.

We’d like all companies to step-up a gear in their efforts to prioritise health. Companies should be working toward the goal of decoupling overall sales growth from the sale of unhealthy products.

We believe companies should embrace transparency by disclosing and reporting their progress toward this goal, setting time-bound targets that they can be held to account for achieving. To do this they’ll need comprehensive health strategies that the whole business can align around.

We know there's much more to do and I would encourage all Consumer Goods Forum members to get involved and strengthen the collaboration...Together we can deliver the change that is needed.

Jason Tarry CEO, Tesco

These health strategies can include joining the CHL UK (for those not already involved) and a focus on scaling those trials that were successful to a national level. We’re calling on the government to support the leaders within this sector with further targeted regulation.

Stronger regulation would create a levelling-up across the sector and even the playing field, making healthy food environments – and the healthy shopping baskets they create – the default position for any commercial organisation.

 

In collaboration with

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