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Briefing

Consumer data shows demand for more action from food manufacturers on health

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Food manufacturers have a huge role to play in defining food environments - and there is a growing demand for them to take steps to promote healthier diets. We carried out consumer polling with Censuswide in six key markets to better understand how consumers viewed health. We found:

  • A growing number of consumers worldwide understand the important role manufacturers play in shaping our diets - but they don't yet trust them to do what they say on this issue.
  • Consumers support more stringent government regulation to promote healthier diets and make healthier food options more available and affordable.
  • They also want to see food manufacturers to a wide range of measures to make more healthy food options, make these options more affordable, and provide clear health guidance on food packaging.

Food manufacturers have a huge role to play in defining food environments. They determine the food products we eat - which has a huge impact on our weight and health.

Food manufacturers have the ability to influence - for better or worse - public health on a global scale.

Obesity rates have tripled globally since 1975 – a direct consequence of poor diets. This has resulted in declining health. The impact of this costs an estimated US$2 trillion every year – or 2.8 per cent of global GDP. That is similar to the impact of smoking.

Yet, according to a recent assessment from the Access to Nutrition Initiative less than a third of all packaged food and drinks products are classified as healthy by government-backed definitions.

Consumer demand for healthy products is on the rise

We carried out consumer polling in six key markets to better understand: current consumer trends in terms of health; how they understand the role of food and drinks manufacturers in promoting good health; and their support for greater measures from both manufacturers and governments to promote better health.

Conducted by Censuswide, the research polled a representative sample of 6,080 people across the UK, US, Australia, France, Germany, and Mexico (roughly 1,000 people per market). The research was conducted between 2 February and 17 February 2022.

There is growing demand for healthy products

Across all regions surveyed an average 45 per cent of people wanted to consume more healthy foods. In Australia, the US and Mexico consumers were concerned that food products were made to look healthy when they were not. Consumers in those countries were also concerned that healthier products were often more expensive.

Consumers understand the important role manufacturers play in driving our dietry choices

Nearly three-quarters (72.5 per cent) of all those surveyed believe food and drinks manufacturers play in influencing our dietary choices. This was particularly strong in Mexico where over 90 per cent of consumers said manufacturers had a very important or somewhat important role in shaping diets. Consumers in the UK (56 per cent) and Germany (60.9 per cent) showed less understanding of this importance than in other regions.

But consumers don't trust manufacturers' claims when it comes to imporving health

Trust in manufacturers was low across all regions - with an average of 30.9 per cent of consumers trusting that manufacturers were doing what they say when it comes to promoting good health. This level of trust was lowest in the UK, Australia and France but even in Mexico where the level of trust was highest, just over 40 per cent of those surveyed believe manufacturers were living up to their claims on health.

Consumers would support more government regulation to promote healthier products

There is strong support across all regions for more government regulation to make healthy foods cheaper and more available, with an average of just over 80 per cent of consumers responding in favour of such measures. This support was strong across all countries, but consumers in Australia, France, and Mexico were particularly in favour. Even in the UK, where support was lowest across the regions, some 68.2 per cent of consumers said they would be in favour of regulation.

And they want to see manufacturers taking more action - across a range of areas

With strong support for government regulation to promote healthier diets, it is perhaps unsurprising that there was also strong support from consumers for food manufacturers to take measures to improve the availability and affordability of healthier food options.

There was strong support across all regions for companies to take action to produce more healthy food products, reformulate unhealthy products to make them healthier, and make healthier options more affordable. Most would also support measures to be able to assess the healthiness of food products, such as clearer packaging and the use of nutritional labels.

A call to action for food manufacturers

In light of growing consumer demand for healthier food products, as well as increasingly stringent food regulations coming in across the globe, investors are increasingly focusing on this issue. Following the filing of a shareholder resolution at Unilever earlier this year, a global coalition of investors managing around US$3 trillion have now written to Nestle, Danone, Kellogg’s and Kraft Heinz calling for greater disclosure and ambition on the health profile of their sales portfolios.