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UK supermarkets ranked on consumer health impacts

Tesco leads the pack, with Iceland & Ocado propping up the table – but performance across the board is poor, with an average score of just 3.3 out of 10

The Access to Nutrition Initiative (ATNI), in partnership with ShareAction, has published the first comprehensive assessment of food retailers’ contribution to consumer health anywhere in the world.

The UK Retailer Index 2022 compares the performance of 11 major UK food retailers across eight topics critical to consumer health, including product formulation, in-store promotion, pricing and placement, media and on-pack advertising, labelling, infant and young child nutrition, and stakeholder engagement.

This ranking follows the publication of a report from the World Health Organization last week that shows the UK has the third-highest obesity rate in adults amongst 53 countries in the WHO European Region. Poor diets account for one in seven UK deaths, while excess obesity-related disease accounts for 8% of all government healthcare expenditure.

Meanwhile, the 11 retailers assessed by ATNI account for over 80% of spending on groceries in the UK, providing them with a huge opportunity – and responsibility – to make healthier food more available, accessible and affordable to consumers. Nine out of the 11 retailers included in this Index made use of the opportunity to share additional data with ATNI throughout the research process - indicating that better nutrition is a topic major UK retailers take seriously.

The ranking by ATNI, the leading benchmarking initiative on nutrition, shows a wide disparity in performance between different retailers. Tesco, which recently committed to increasing sales of healthier food products from 58% to 65% of all sales by 2025 – following a shareholder resolution filed by ShareAction – tops the table with a score of 5.2 out of 10.

The supermarket giant is closely followed by Sainsbury’s (4.8) and ALDI UK (4.3). In contrast, Iceland and Ocado scored just 0.6 and 0.5, respectively. The ranking shows there is much room for improvement across the sector regarding nutrition-related topics, as the average score was just 3.3 out of 10.

Some examples identified by the assessment include:

  • Lidl GB and Sainsbury’s are the only two companies that have allocated responsibility for delivering their nutrition strategy a senior executive or CEO;
  • Five companies (ALDI UK, Lidl GB, M&S, Sainsbury’s, and Tesco) have set targets to increase their sales of healthier food products over time, and all of these, except for M&S, have also set specific targets to increase their sales of fruit and vegetables;
  • Two companies (M&S and Tesco) use the UK Government’s definition of healthier products to guide their product reformulation and marketing work;
  • Only Co-op and Waitrose commit not to run in-store promotional activities directed at children featuring any less healthy products;
  • Lidl GB, M&S, Sainsbury’s and Tesco use their membership or rewards schemes (available to all customers) to incentivise the sale of healthy products;
  • All but Iceland, Ocado and Tesco were found to have made some efforts to restrict the usage of child-oriented characters on own-brand products;
  • Iceland is the only retailer that does not use traffic-light front-of-pack labels on their own-brand products, though it is generally unclear to which products the retailers’ policies on FOP labelling apply and what is the rationale for any exceptions;
  • No retailer has committed to adhering to WHO’s International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes.

Lily Roberts, Senior Campaigns and Research Officer at ShareAction, said: “With two in every three pounds spent on food going to supermarkets, these companies have a major influence on the nation’s health. By better integrating considerations around nutrition across their business, progressive retailers can stay ahead of growing regulation in this space while driving improvements in public health outcomes. Investors are increasingly prioritising health within their policies and practices, and we expect them to continue robust company engagement on this theme.”

Inge Kauer, Executive Director, Access to Nutrition Initiative, said: I trust that the results and recommendations in this report will help the retail companies and other organisations active in the UK food system to increase their efforts to ensure food and nutrition security for all in the UK and prevent the further spread of diet-related diseases. For supermarkets to hold the line on delivering affordable healthy products is more relevant than ever, with extra threats to food security posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of the war in Ukraine. ATNI is ready to follow up with companies and continue monitoring progress over time.

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