By Aileen Corrieri, Food & Health Senior Research Officer, ShareAction
Corporate disclosure on improving healthy and sustainable diets is vital.
Without it, investors will be unable to understand how the food industry is responding to the multiple health, societal and environmental issues linked to the food system.
Yet, the sector is falling behind.
A new report by the Food Foundation’s Plating Up Progress project shows that while some leadership practices are emerging, more ambitious targets and disclosure are needed.
Nowhere is this truer then when it comes to improving and encouraging healthy diets.
The Plating Up Progress project
The report assessed the commitments and reporting practices of 26 of the UK’s biggest food retailers, caterers, quick service and casual dining restaurant chains.
It looks at practices across ten key food system issues: nutritious products and services, encouraging healthy diets, climate change, biodiversity, sustainable food production, water, food waste and loss, plastics, animal welfare and antibiotics, and human rights.
Poor retailer disclosure on health and nutrition
Of the 11 retailers included in the report, none disclose clear impact and progress on encouraging healthy diets and offering nutritious product. Most disclose only partial or no information. The indicators linked to these two categories, in part assessed using data from the ATNI Supermarket Spotlight report produced in partnership with ShareAction, are the most under-reported ones in the sector.
Retailers are clearly overlooking food and health efforts compared to other food system issues.
Take Tesco, for example. The market leader recently set ambitious targets to increase sales from sustainable plant-based meat alternatives without taking into account the health aspect of these products. At the same time, it has failed to articulate clear commitments and targets to increase sales from healthier food and drink.
There are some market-leading practices on improving health and nutrition that are worth noting, such as Sainsbury’s and M&S setting targets to improve sales from healthier products. But overall the sector’s response to unhealthy diets is inadequate.
Why poor disclosure is a risk
So, why is this important? The lack of reporting on healthy diets means investors cannot accurately assess and compare company performance and risk.
This is a significant blind spot. Especially when you consider the growing regulation in this space in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Building on its existing tax on sugary drinks and voluntary sugar and calorie reduction programmes, the government has set out a new obesity strategy to further curb the sale of unhealthy food and drink in supermarkets.
Alongside rising regulation, consumers are increasingly demanding healthier products, a trend that is likely to grow due to the pandemic highlighting the importance of health.
What investors can do
With such clear risks and opportunities, investors need to understand how retailers plan to address them.
As stated in our most recent Healthy Markets briefing, retailers can demonstrate their efforts and impact by setting targets and reporting progress towards increasing sales from healthier products.
As such investors should urge retailers to report on this key metric.
By doing so investors can highlight the importance of this issue and ensure they have access to consistent and comparable reporting on health in the retail sector.