For consumers, choosing to purchase healthier, more sustainable foods often comes with a price inflation, explains Sharon Bligh, from the Consumer Goods Forum
The Global Nutrition Report published earlier this month delivered some stark findings. The world is off course to meet eight out of nine of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) nutrition targets by 2025. Significant numbers of children remain malnourished: 149.2 million children under five are stunted, 45.4 million children are wasted (meaning they have a low weight to height ratio) and 38.9 million are overweight. Meanwhile, 2.2 billion adults – over 40 per cent – are overweight or obese with no country worldwide on track to stop the rise of obesity.
The report found that these targets are even more at risk due to disruptions from the pandemic and climate change. Covid-19 containment responses have exposed existing social, economic and health inequities and has worsened for many, their access and means to eat well and sustainably. According to data from the Food Foundation, during the first two weeks of lockdown in the spring of 2020, the proportion of households facing food insecurity doubled to more than 15 per cent.
There has never been a more urgent time for businesses to help build a just and resilient world where no one is left behind; and the food industry has an integral role in achieving this. Governments alone cannot effect the transformation that is urgently needed. Business has a hugely important role to play, from multinational agribusinesses to food retailers.
A clear example of this is the recent news that investors managing $12.4tr in assets called for governments and companies to accelerate the shift to promoting healthier food and drink to help fix what they described as a “global nutrition crisis”. The investors are urging policymakers to use fiscal and regulatory measures to help support healthy packaged food and do more to meet the nutrition targets laid out by the WHO.
This is a positive development; the global food industry can make a massive contribution to rising living standards across the world, but food insecurity still blights the lives of millions of people.
Smaller, localised action can make a difference. From food labelling to ensuring access to affordable and healthy food and drink, we must help consumers drive healthier choices in-store, online and in communities throughout the world. The Collaboration for Healthier Lives (CHL) is all about accelerating action and impact – and has implemented a total of 71 programmes around the world to date, with more than 800 individual interventions to support consumers. By assessing these interventions, we are building insights on the vital success factors that manufacturers and retailers must consider when designing programmes to drive healthier lives.
In our experience, for consumers, choosing to purchase healthy meal options or more sustainable foods often comes with a price inflation. This makes it extremely difficult for the most vulnerable in society to have access to smarter food choices for their health and the planet. For example, research showed that price was a key barrier to healthy eating for many people in the London boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark. Acting on that, Tesco UK launched a targeted pricing promotion. Its ‘Fresh 3’ programme rotated three different packs of fresh fruit or vegetables on special offer, resulting in a double-digit increase in sales. Following the pilot’s success, the programme was rolled out nationally. Of course, companies need to measure their achievements and learnings to help refine, share and scale up what works. Academic partners can help with this – in the UK, CHL partnered with the University of Oxford to help independently evaluate our work.
Collaboration is key to tackling food accessibility issues. We must share thinking, investment, time and resources, and collaborate across sectors and with key stakeholders around the world to drive change. The scale of the health challenge ahead is vast – but so is the opportunity. Many businesses are already embedding themselves deeper into the communities they help to nourish and working with partners to step up their efforts to enable people to lead fuller, healthier, longer and more productive lives.
Sharon Bligh is director of collaboration for healthier lives at the Consumer Goods Forum.