Speakers: Justine Hare, Senior Corporate Affairs Manager, Mars Food UK; Polly Jones and Dr Hayley Marson, Asda Stores; Mark Saxon, Coca-Cola GB
25th May 2016 – meeting notes
All-Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood
Industry initiatives towards a healthier diet
Chair: Baroness Benjamin
Baroness Benjamin opened the meeting, introducing the speakers.
We have Global health and wellbeing ambitions, which we launched in April. Mars Food looks after main meal products (part of Mars Inc) and are in 29 countries around the world.
Our Health and Wellbeing ambition are two-fold: creating and promoting healthy food choices and the second part is getting families to cook and eat together. We are improving the nutritional content of products and meals we make with our products, using expertise from our in-house Mars nutritionists.
Over the next 5 years we would like to provide 1 billion healthy meals around the world. We are doing this by continuing to reduce salt and added sugar in our products. In the UK we have done a lot of work on salt reduction. We have reduced it by 30% since 2007.
We think about the nutrients to enhance the product, in the UK we are not eating enough fibre or fruit and vegetables. We are putting in more whole grain and fruit and vegetables in our food. 50% of rice products will contain whole-grains. With fruit and vegetables: our tomatoes sauces to contain one of your 5 a day. We also want to put recipes on packs to encourage the consumption of even more whole grain or vegetables over time.
We also want to improve awareness that some of our products can be higher in salt or sugar (because of a meal made or authentic products) we need to help consumers understand these are occasional foods, we’ll put this information on the packs.
We want to encourage cooking at home. In Australia 90% of families follow recipes on the pack. We are taking what we have learned from there, bringing to the UK market. Some of our projects are about bringing families around the table – Uncle Ben’s “Ben’s beginners” helping children to cook and eat.
Affordability: we don’t have all the answers, but our aim is that every family will have a meal that is affordable.
Asda is the UK’s second largest supermarket, we recognise our role to help consumers have healthy lives. We offer quality food, at good prices. Our shops cover deprived and affluent communities. We have pharmacies in which we provide free BMI, smoking cessation and blood glucose tests.
We work with other stakeholders; signed 25 commitments to the Responsibility Deal, we are a committed partner of Public Health England and active supporters of Change for Life programme. Our stores are a gateway to Change for Life for our 19 million customers. We also recently supported One You programme, including things such as free blood pressure checks.
We don’t run Buy One Get One Free (BOGOF) promotions, we simply offer everyday low prices. We know that a proportion of our customers worry that eating healthy is expensive. We try to offer balanced promotions; for example making sure diet and Red coke is on promotion at the same time, so customers are not incentivised to make unhealthy choices. We were the first company to adopt traffic light. We’d like government to challenge EU legislation on labelling for children’s products.
All our products in our Chosen by Kids range meet Ofcom nutrient profile model. Projects such as our healthy eating toolkit are designed by the Children’s Food Trust, we also support physical activity in the community. Lots of our wider activity underpinned by the aim to improve quality of food we sell.
In 2013 we set 3 work streams: front of pack traffic light labelling, nutrition targets and continued commitment to 2017 targets. We have made excellent progress in all these streams. We have removed thousands of calories from the food chain. Over two and a half years we’ve reformulated 2000+ existing products, in addition to new products hitting the markets.
Reformulation can be a challenge, want to improve but we are aware that Asda alone cannot achieve all of it. We ask for industry-wide sugar targets (like with salt) we can achieve public health benefits through a level playing field.
Sugar is the only source of calories in our drinks, the work that we have been doing to cut sugar in our portfolio. Every one of our 91 drinks (in UK) has a zero sugar alternative. We have removed 16K tonnes of sugar from UK market, our focus is on reformulation and helping to nudge people across to zero or reduced sugar options.
We have colour coded labelling and introduced 250ml can in the cola range; this means less sugar and less calories. We have increased market investment in the low sugar brands.
Five out of 10 people don’t realise that coke zero is zero sugar/calories.
We have just announced the launch of a new coca cola zero sugar, which tastes more similar to regular coca cola than the previous version. We will continue to look at reformulation. The aim is to be the first country in the world where 50% of sales is from diet/lighter cokes.
Across the industry a lot of these measures are starting to bear fruit. A lot of the statistics on which policy is based is from the old NDS. The DEFRA family food survey (up to 2014) shows that regular soft drink consumption has fallen in last decade and been replaced by diets and lights.
Kantar research shows that sugar intake has fallen, whilst the soft drink category is still growing. We will continue our efforts, reformulating and continue to heavily market the lighter brands and encouraging consumers to make right choices for their families.
Baroness Benjamin: Will Coke’s changes to their drinks make them fall out of the sugar levy?
Mark Saxon: Regular coke will be in upper band of levy, light in the mid and Zero exempt, Lilt will be exempt. We will have to work hard to get drinks out of the levies or work hard to get people on to light drinks.
Baroness Walmsley: Congratulations to all on the good work. Asda, whilst a lot of your own brand products have been reformulated, how are you using your enormous buying power to influence branded products?
Are Coke doing anything with new mothers to help them to help their children not to develop a sweet tooth? We look to industry to help us out.
Polly Jones: We need a system of industry sugar targets, if everyone was subject to industry sugar targets we would not be put at a competitive disadvantage.
Hayley Marson: This is difficult, we do have engagement with brands (some make our own label products) we are asking for targets in order to have a level playing field, as with salt.
Baroness Walmsley: I am surprised to hear you say you lose competitive advantage by reducing fat/sugar in products. Do people not choose to buy these products because they are now healthier?
Hayley Marson: Regulatory rules do not allow marketing (as healthier) if reduction is less than 30%, so cannot use that as a marketing angle.
Mark Saxon: Changing formula generally sees a drop in sales. NDNS and DEFRA numbers show added sugar has fallen the same amount as salt has (of course there is more to do) but it is working as well. Salt reduction gets a lot of credit whilst sugar does not.
With reference to new mothers, we are signed up to responsible marketing code of practice, which means no marketing to under 12’s. We do not do anything with new mothers. We invest in a lot of community work but avoid diet and nutrition work.
Q. The message to families is to have certain food and drink as treats. The message of swapping full calorie drinks with low calorie drinks does not seem quite right can we do same type of work as we did with salt to promote eating less rather than substituting it?
Justine Hare: All we can do is nudge behaviour, do all you can to encourage healthy eating.
Polly Jones: We sell a huge variety of produce, with our good customer reach we do have lots of influence (supporting Change for life, and our community outreach work to help deliver public health messages). We also try nudge behaviour techniques with low price fruit and vegetables in the front of all stores.
Hayley Marson: We are awaiting clearer guidance from PHE in relation to Eat Health Messages and same with added sugars and then we will take the messages on board.
It should be noted that the Swap from sugar to no sugar fizzy drinks – is a Change for Life message.
Mark Saxon: We do not sell directly to schools. Personally I think evidence suggests low cal soft drinks play a good role in weight management. We make 96 different drinks, some of our fastest growing brands are flavoured water. The sugar tax will affect us and perhaps stop us from being able to reformulate. It will increase CPI/RPI. Now we have to find our share of £520million a year (soft drinks levy represents 50% of soft drinks profits across the market).
Q. How have you made an impact on children in schools?
Polly Jones: In 2013 we launched our children’s school tool kit, it has introduced taste testing fruit and vegetables and basic cooking skills. By starting really early we can have an impact. We talk to teachers, get quality feedback, then re-visit same children next year and get further feedback. It has been really popular; we also get those programmes evaluated.
Baroness Benjamin: Are you working with other supermarkets on this? I know that you are competitors, but we need to see all the supermarkets working together.
Polly Jones: We are bound by strict competition law so cannot discuss prices and marketing. We are proud of School programmes, but, yes we are protective.
Hayley Marson: There is a nutrition group of the British Retail consortium which allows for sharing of good practice and learning.
Justine Hare: On children and skills, learning to cook is as important as maths or English, everyone working together and lots of different elements and organisations working together.
Mark Saxon: There is a clear trend amongst teens to move to diet drinks. Kids and teens, we need something quite targeted. In Germany Belgium and the Netherlands the proportion of teens drinking soft drinks higher than UK, but we are more obese. We need to find ways to reach certain parts of society. More needs to be done. There are signs of progress as well.
Q. Encouraging to hear working in partnership with children families and schools. Eating behaviours and patterns develop in under 3’s, think about what you are doing with early years, pregnancy, babies and toddlers. One problem is not having nutrition guidelines for early years.
Polly Jones: Asda accepts Healthy Start vouchers that gives a bit of a link with that demographic. We give away free folic acid. The Chosen by You kids range (which meets nutrient profiling from Ofcom). But yes it is true, that is a market that can do with help.
Mark Saxon: I dispute the idea of sugar being “addictive”, based on the evidence.
On the point about mothers, the industry (Food and Drink Federation) floated an idea for industry and broadcasters to pay for educational programmes in prime time TV adverts and TV shows, it got short shrift from government. It is safer to have a pan-industry approach (and or include broadcasters etc). It is better to work in that way and much harder as an individual company/brand to do something like that.
Baroness Benjamin: Do you have a moral responsibility over the contents of hospital vending machines?
Mark Saxon: We don’t sell to these organisations, they buy from wholesales. Public Health England is working on buying guidelines which will include requirements for healthy products on the public estate.
Baroness Benjamin: Justine, how can you ensure that mums are buying foods that are ok?
Justine Hare: That is not an area where Mars Food operates. In general terms it is about providing clear information for parents to be able to make an informed choice about their purchase. Nutritional colour-coded labelling is an example of where industry has worked together well.
Mark Saxon: Colour-coded labelling is what we use as a model in businesses around the world.
Q. It is great to have the dialogue, but are we being health-washed? There are things that slipped through the presentations: soft drinks – PHE are saying that soft drinks are the largest source of sugar for teens. Coke says it is not selling to children, but you have the coke buses at Christmas. What about the sweetness coming through in the drinks? Asda is doing great things, but looking at the Asda magazine, its broader messages do not quite match up with what is in the magazine.
Mark Saxon: Adverts close to schools should not be happening, let us know where they are and we can get that stopped. We view the trucks at Christmas and Saturday evening TV as family time, where parents will guide their children in choices. Looking at totality of evidence does not support the arguments about sweeteners and sweetness.
Phil Royal: Mary Berry promotes cake and sweetness with her TV shows. Perhaps she need to be restrained!
Baroness Benjamin: We need children to be taught to be satisfied and stop and teach people self- discipline.
Q. How can we better position parents to teach children about “treats” especially in the bottom demographic which you have access to at Asda?
Polly Jones: We are reliant on orgs like PHE or Children’s Food Trust. Asda cannot be the source of opinion on these issues. We rely on Government and PHE messages, which we then communicate to customers. That is where industry partnership working is important.
Hayley Marson: We rely on government information.
Baroness Benjamin: Anything we in government should be doing?
Polly Jones: Industry-wide sugar targets would be good for customers and industry.
Mark Saxon: Good questions and no easy answers. We are evolved to look for calorie rich food, it is tough to try to break that programming. There are a combination of things, food availability on its own is enough to explain obesity epidemic (according to WHO report findings). We have said to government, we are more than happy to contribute to education programmes as brands, we are not credible to give this advice.
Mark Saxon: It is notable that there are other European countries that eat more sugar and are slimmer than us in the UK.
Justine Hare: It is multi factorial and complex, there is still work to do.
The meeting closed at this point.