Public Health England is developing policies to help reduce calories in diets “from sources other than sugar”, and it expects retailers to take part.
The government body says convenience store staples such as ready meals, savoury snacks and sandwiches are the kinds of foods likely to be included in the programme. It says the overall objective is to reduce child obesity.
To provide the data necessary to do this, The Department of Health has set up a £5m Obesity Research Policy Unit to look into the causes of childhood obesity, such as marketing to children and families, social inequalities, and the early years of childhood.
Various health groups have used the announcement to lobby the Government to make changes that would impact how retailers run their stores. Action on Sugar called for the sugar levy to be expanded to confectionery while the Obesity Health Alliance called for cuts to unhealthy food promotions and display units in stores.
Public Health England said its success in working with companies over sugar reduction suggests similar progress can be made on calories. A statement reads: “Since the childhood obesity plan was published, retailers and manufacturers like Nestle, General Mills, Lucozade Ribena Suntory, Tesco, Waitrose, Kellogg’s, Sainsbury’s, Marks and Spencer, Greggs, Starbucks and Breck’s Food have announced they are, or already have, lowered the amount of sugar in their products.”
Meanwhile voluntary campaigns to get convenience retailers to sell healthier products are already underway. The Food Foundation announced its Pledge for More Veg earlier this year, asking retailers to commit to help their customer consumer one extra unit of veg a day.
The Food Foundation’s executive director Anna Taylor spoke at the ACS Responsible Retailing Forum in July to persuade convenience stores to take part.
While the threat of more health regulations on retailers will concern store owners, there is evidence that a voluntary commitment to increase healthy food sales can actually be beneficial for retailers.
Simply Fresh director Sukhjit Khera said: “Leading on vegetables, making them a prominent part of our displays and overall offer has been key to our success. In our Alcestor store alone, we were able to double turnover and increase our margin by 2% with the introduction of a more substantive vegetable offer, despite being surrounded by a number of the larger high street supermarkets.”