Let’s start with what we know.
- Healthier food can reduce the risk of obesity (in both children and adults) – as well as type 2 Diabetes, heart attack and stroke, several types of cancer, dental decay and probably depression. That’s good for the nation’s health and can help reduce pressure on the NHS.
- It’s good for business too. Both consumer research and sales figures point in the same direction. Healthier food is the way forward, with increasingly health conscious consumers proving to be the most lucrative customers, with the greatest lifetime value for the food industry.
- The significant rise in obesity across the developed world (in both children and adults) is a major public health challenge. So producing healthier food that helps tackle obesity is now a global business opportunity – just the kind of opportunity the UK needs to help make a success of Brexit.
The good news is that the building blocks are already in place for the UK food industry to become a world leader in the production, sale and marketing of healthier food – at each stage from food supply and processing through retail to out of home catering.
The bad news is that this opportunity could slip through the cracks between two government strategies.
The food industry is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK – but it doesn’t feature in the government’s proposed Industrial Strategy. Instead this refers readers to a proposed Plan for Food Farming and Fisheries. Unfortunately this looks likely to focus on the initial supply of food (from farms and fisheries) and agricultural exports – rather than food processing and retail, which risks falling between the two strategies.
We hope readers will follow up this point with government by responding to the consultation (which is open till April) – to ensure that becoming a world leader in the production, sale and marketing of healthier food is centre stage in the Industrial Strategy.
By healthier food we mean food with less sugar, salt and saturated fat and more dietary fibre – which fortunately (together with vegetables, fruit and pulses) is the kind of food best able to limit weight gain in both children and adults.
Evidence that healthier food is good for business comes from a range of sources. This includes consumer research organisations like Kantar World Panel, Leatherhead Food Research and Nielsen. It also comes from sales figures in both the US and UK.
UK food companies have the expertise to make a commercial success of healthier food. This includes expertise in consumer research, market testing, product reformulation, portion size development and advertising. They also have access to corporation tax relief for R & D and to world class universities. For example Marks & Spencer developed the ‘Fuller Longer’ range with input from researchers at Aberdeen University.
Importantly, emerging developments in food technology mean a more rapid move to lower levels of sugar, salt and fat is now possible. For example, flavour delivery particles for sugar and salt microspheres provide the same sugar and salt taste that consumers are used to but with less sugar and salt and without using artificial alternatives.
We hope the government will recognise that a strategy to achieve world leadership in the mass production of healthier food will be good for the nation’s health, good for the food industry and good for our economic prospects post Brexit. It will help tackle childhood obesity by addressing the problem at source.
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