By Ignacio Vazquez, Company Engagement and Research Manager

The Access to Nutrition Initiative (ATNI) has published today a report assessing the nutritional quality of the product portfolio of 18 major food and beverage manufacturers in the UK.

This leading piece of research, the first output in our ongoing collaboration with ATNI under our Healthy Markets campaign, looks at the nutritional profile of over 3000 food and drink products and their suitability to market to children. These account for half of the sales of all packaged food and drink products sold in 2016 in the UK, and include many brands of popular children products.

What are the main findings of the report?

The report paints a bleak picture of the nutritional quality of products on sale in the UK. Out of all the products assessed, 69% were classified as “unhealthy” according to the Health Star Rating system. This system, similar to that used by the UK advertising regulator Ofcom since 2007, looks at the overall balance of “good” and “bad” nutrients contained in food. This finding suggests that the majority of all packaged food and drink in the UK contains too many calories, saturated fats, sugar or salt.

Moreover, an even higher percentage of them, 85%, were deemed inappropriate to be marketed at children according to World Health Organization’s guidance. This is because the majority of products on sale are either from predominantly unhealthy food and drink categories like confectionery, or their overall nutritional profile was considered poor.

Unhealthy foods are a risky business model

Poor diets – high in fat, salt and sugar, and/or low in fruit, vegetables and wholegrains – are putting consumers at risk of premature death as well as developing a wide range of serious conditions including obesity, diabetes and hypertension. Already, poor diets are responsible for almost one in five deaths in the UK.

Consumers want food and drink companies to be part of the solution and not the problem. A recent poll published by The Grocer shows that a larger proportion of UK consumers (40%) believe food manufacturers and retailers had a responsibility to help them eat better, over those (33%) who expect the government to lead the way.​ Moreover, the latest Food Standards Agency’s food attitudes survey shows that the level of sugar continues to be among the top consumer concerns when it comes to food.

In this context, the results published today invite a number of questions. For example, why is Mondelez’s baked goods portfolio, the maker of brands such as Cadbury’s or Oreo’s, on average more than three times less healthy than that of Grupo Bimbo? Or, why are Ferrero’s spreads, the maker of brands such as Nutella, four times less healthy than those sold by Kraft Heinz? Despite the frequent comparisons with tobacco, food doesn’t have to, and shouldn’t, be this way. Companies can invest in making their existing products healthier or create new healthy product ranges altogether.

The report shows that overall food manufacturers are complacent about the mounting business risks they are facing. Despite being increasingly under scrutiny by regulators and consumers alike, companies’ turnover, in 13 out of 18 cases, comes from sales of unhealthy products. Shockingly, for Nestlé, Mondelez, Suntory and Ferrero, the sales from healthy products does not even represent 10% – none for Ferrero – of their total.

The results are not just bad news for consumers’ health but should also be noted by investors with concern. Ensuring company growth and profits are not reliant on the sale of unhealthy products will keep investors sweet and prevent businesses from being stuck on economic models that are fast becoming obsolete.

Thanks Ignacio! ShareAction’s Healthy Markets campaign aims to tackle rising child obesity rates in the UK by working with investors, manufacturers and retailers to create healthier food environments for children and their families. For more information, please contact ellie.chapman@shareaction.org or click here