Woman pushes trolley in supermarket

Supermarkets urged to help tackle obesity

Report says food retailers have enormous potential to positively influence the population’s diets and health.
05 March 2020 , Katie Coyne

Supermarkets have a “pivotal role” to play in tackling the obesity epidemic and diet-related disease by publishing and developing comprehensive data on diet, nutrition and health, said a new report.

Published by the Access to Nutrition Initiative (ATNI) and charity ShareAction, the report looked at 10 major supermarkets – Aldi UK, Asda, Co-op, Iceland, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, and Waitrose. 

These retailers hold 94% of the grocery market share with combined revenue in 2018 of £180bn.

Poor diet in the UK accounted for 17% of all deaths in 2017 as well as a range of preventable illnesses linked to obesity. Overweight accounts for 8.4% of health spend, and a 3.4% reduction in GDP.

UK families spend just under 80% of their weekly food budget for food eaten at home in supermarkets. Authors of the report argued that the supermarkets have huge sway over nutritional quality, as more than half of all food sales comprise own-brand products.

“The UK’s major food retailers have enormous potential to positively influence the diets and health of the entire population,” said Access to Nutrition Foundation executive director Inge Kauer.

“Their national scale and reach mean they have substantial influence over the food people have access to and what they buy. Retailers influence food consumption through the formulation, packaging, labelling, pricing, promotion, positioning and advertising of both their own-brand and branded products.

“They also influence the legal and regulatory framework through their engagement with the UK’s governments and policymakers.”

The report warns that growing economic and societal costs of diet-related poor health will create risk for businesses if they do not react – including reputational damage, and costs associated with increased regulation and taxes such as the Soft Drinks Industry Levy. If public demand for affordable, healthier foods is not met, this could result in loss of market share.

The ATNI report measured how well the supermarkets were reporting on nutrition and reformulation, and their plans to improve. They then gave each retailer a percentage score based on their findings. None scored above 35%. However, the report noted that the retailers may be taking more action behind the scenes but not yet reporting on it.

Reporting on sugar and salt reformulation efforts have been most extensive, and there has also been action on healthier checkouts, and front-of-pack traffic-light labelling. While some retailers were doing more than others, the ATNI report argued that all of them had scope to explain “more fully” their commitments and action in all areas. 

How the supermarkets stacked up on nutrition reporting:

  • Sainsbury’s (35%)
  • Marks & Spencer (33%)
  • Co-op (30%)
  • Tesco (30%)
  • Lidl (25%)
  • Morrisons (20%)
  • Aldi UK (19%)
  • Waitrose (15%)
  • Asda (8%)
  • Iceland (7%)
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