A Healthy Influence on Business

Susan JebbJust over a year ago I wrote about the need for food businesses to wake up to the changing times, arguing that it was in their own interests to recognise that “healthier eating is no longer the pursuit of a faddish-minority but has now become much more a part of the everyday shop”. Some companies are already on the front foot, but as I said then – “more companies need to wake up to their responsibilities and start acknowledging the opportunities created by the nation’s changing food preferences”.

What is now becoming clear is that for some businesses, working with Government on the Responsibility Deal (RD) has added new impetus and priority to their active engagement with the healthier eating agenda. This has led them to change and innovate – recognising that being ahead of the curve makes sound business sense. Three major food companies and RD partners have recently made clear the extent to which the RD has helped shape their business strategy.

Leading the field in the out of home sector, SUBWAY® stores, continue to be a committed RD partner and the only Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) to have signed up to six of the food pledges. On salt reduction they have, on average, almost halved (48%) the amount of salt across their entire range and all their stores have menu boards featuring calories. And they are also the only QSR to sign up and take action on calorie reduction.

When you consider that SUBWAY® stores serve over 2.5 million customers every week and 40 per cent of their Subs sold in the UK and Ireland are from the Low Fat Range – all containing less than 3g of fat (per 100 g) and fewer than 370 calories – the impact their efforts are having on public health is indeed commendable. And they have achieved this while continuing to grow their business.

Mike Charest, regional director for the SUBWAY® brand in Europe said: “As the largest specialist sandwich chain in the UK we are immensely proud of our long-term partnership with Heart Research UK, which supports a consumers’ choice of a Low Fat Sub. No other QSR is yet to match the SUBWAY® brand’s endorsement of seven nutrition-based Responsibility Deal pledges!”

Another committed partner has been Morrisons. The company has signed up to all seven of the food pledges relevant to their business, but have also signed up to a total of 24 pledges across all the RD networks (food, alcohol, health at work and physical activity).

David Scott, Head of Policy at Morrisons, recently gave a presentation to the RD plenary group about the actions the company had taken in their customer cafes to encourage and promote healthier eating. What was interesting was the stimulus that labelling of calories on dishes had made in encouraging customers to choose healthier options. Immediately after the introduction of calorie information sales of their ‘Big Breakfast’ dropped while sales of healthier breakfasts increased; and elsewhere on the menu there was a 10 per cent uplift in healthier options like jacket potatoes and salads.

And in their stores, as part of their work on calorie reduction, Morrisons has introduced NuMe – a new healthier eating range where calories are lower than standard products. The NuMe sales data shows a significant uplift compared with their previous Eat Smart range. For example, NuMe light soft cheese has 34 per cent fewer calories and sales have gone up 89 per cent compared with Eat Smart.

Morrisons acknowledged that the RD has helped to strengthen and drive existing activity on healthier eating, with Scott saying that it has helped to “reinforce the importance of this activity” and has led the company into new territory – “we are doing things differently.”

Tesco is also committed to delivering on all of the seven food pledges, including salt and calorie reduction and front of pack labelling; as well as taking action for their staff, customers and local communities, across a total of 24 pledges. On calorie reduction through reformulation, Tesco has already reduced the number of calories sold in their own brand soft drinks by over 1 billion in 2012 and is committed to on-going action.

The company has recognised how working voluntarily with the RD has proved to be useful for helping engage colleagues on healthier eating issues.

Simon Burton, Group Government Affairs Director at Tesco, also noted that the RD has made it easier for the industry to work together to provide healthier products, as they are all publicly committed “to the same mission”. And as he acknowledged – reiterating what I have repeatedly stressed – only an industry-wide solution can turn around the trend of rising obesity.

Everyone needs to play their part and embrace the RD’s healthy influence on business.

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