Retailers and food businesses back historic reporting plans to improve nation’s health

Britain’s biggest retailers and food manufacturers have today backed calls for “mandatory reporting” of the types of food being sold to customers, as part of an unprecedented joint-bid to improve the nation’s health.

Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose & Partners, Iceland Foods, Greggs, Co-Op Food and Greencore have today signed up to a plan which would see the entire food industry set out annually how they are boosting the amounts of fruit and vegetables and products containing fibre sold to customers – as well as how they are reducing sales of food high in saturated fat, salt and/or sugar.

The historic transparency drive would also see Britain’s food giants for the first time set out the amount of meat, fish and plant-based protein being sold, as well as setting out how they are reducing food waste.

The food giants today came together in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic to recognise the vital role they play in helping their customers to make healthy and sustainable choices. They said that mandatory reporting would set a level playing field for the whole industry and allow customers to see for themselves whether the sector is making the changes required to make Britain healthier and to protect our Planet.

The food businesses are backing a recommendation made in this week’s National Food Strategy, authored by Henry Dimbleby, in which he calls for the Government to introduce a new law requiring food companies with over 250 employees to provide an annual report on:

  • The amount of food they sell which is high in saturated fat, salt and sugar (excluding alcohol) to UK consumers,
  • The amount of protein sold – including meat, fish, plant protein,
  • The amount of vegetables, fruit and fibre sold,
  • The amount of food waste
  • Total food and drink sales

In addition to their commitment on mandatory reporting, the industry players also said that they welcome the ambition and direction of travel set out in the National Food Strategy, which seeks to reform the country’s food system in order to improve the health of the nation, preserve our natural environment and help achieve Net Zero targets.

Henry Dimbleby, author of the National Food Strategy, said: “Improving people’s diets is vital if we want to protect the NHS and have a significant, positive impact on the health of our children and the generations to come.

“Our leading food businesses are today making clear that they understand how critical their role is in improving British people’s diets. Over time, mandatory reporting will show the positive steps that industry is taking to improve the diets of the nation.

“This marks the first, vital step in changing Britain’s food system, protecting the environment and ensuring that we all become healthier.”

Jason Tarry, Tesco UK & ROI CEO, said: “We welcome this ambitious report, the direction of travel it sets and the emphasis it places on a whole-industry approach to tackling the challenges of public health and climate change.

“Tesco was the first retailer to publish its food waste data, and this year we have begun sharing the details of our protein sales, so we support the Strategy’s call for mandatory reporting requirements, and with it the aim of delivering affordable, healthy, sustainable food for all.”

Simon Roberts, Sainsbury’s CEO, said: “As part of our brand commitment to Help Everyone Eat Better, we have been proactively disclosing our healthy and better for you sales since November 2020 and we continue to increase our sales reporting across a wide range of metrics. 

“We believe that everyone should have access to food that is better for them and the planet and that increased reporting is one of the first steps in helping businesses understand how they can have a direct impact in encouraging customers towards healthier and more sustainable diets. 

“We are supportive of the mandatory reporting recommendations laid out in the National Food Strategy and believe that better transparency across the food sector will develop industry insights that positively influence customer health outcomes.”

James Bailey, Executive Director of Waitrose & Partners, said: “We welcome Henry Dimbleby’s work on the much-needed National Food Strategy.  Waitrose & Partners wholeheartedly supports the ambition for greater transparency of the British food system. We are committed to providing our customers with healthy and sustainable food to help them eat a balanced diet.  

“Our farmers are the guardians of the highest environmental and animal welfare standards for which our brand is famous and we will continue to work in partnership with them to offer our customers truly sustainable and high quality food, with the welfare of animals always our priority.”

Roger Whiteside, Greggs CEO, said: “As one of the leading food-on-the-go retailers in the UK, Greggs remains committed to playing our part in tackling obesity levels by improving food nutrition and actively encouraging our customers to make healthier choices. We support the introduction of mandatory reporting across our sector which will create a level playing field for the largest food providers and help deliver a step change in the health of the nation’s diet.”

Richard Walker, Managing Director, Iceland Foods said: “Transparent mandated business reporting will ensure customers are able to judge the true context of the commitments businesses make and the progress being reported. This covers the health and nutrition of the food we sell, our total carbon footprint and major environmental issues – such as how much plastic packaging we use and the risk of deforestation in our supply chains.”

Patrick Coveney, CEO, Greencore, said: “Providing our customers with healthy, sustainable food whilst reducing waste and minimising our impact on the environment is at the core of Greencore’s purpose and sustainability strategy. We welcome these proposals which will provide consumers with a clear view of the progress that is being made by the UK food industry.”

Jo Whitfield, CEO, Co-op Food, said: “Supermarkets play an important role in shaping the diets of the nation through healthy and sustainable eating. Co-op has longstanding commitments to open and transparent reporting on its progress towards increasing healthy food promotions and tackling food waste and climate change. To make healthier food choices easier for shoppers within our convenience stores, we’ve worked hard to remove billions of calories by reformulating products and develop ready meals and prepared foods which feature portions of fruit and vegetables. We are also working towards encouraging a shift towards plant-based food choices and have reduced the price of our vegan range to match meat and dairy counterparts to help people reduce their consumption.

“We welcome these new recommendations which could revolutionise food reporting and provide greater transparency but, importantly, bring about a consistent approach across the sector.”

She added: “Despite the evidence that eating a diet full of fruit and vegetables leads to a healthy life and weight, the nation faces an obesity epidemic. The food industry already faces tougher rules on marketing high fat, salt and sugar products. However, to reduce the amount of unhealthy food being consumed, there is a strong argument that we need a national strategy and intervention to create a level playing field and set a framework for retailers and manufactures to abide by.”

In his independent report, Dimbleby is calling for the changes to be introduced by the Government in 2023/24 as part of a Good Food Bill proposed for the fourth session of this Parliament and to cover the country’s large retailers, restaurants, caterers, wholesalers, manufacturers and online food ordering platforms.

The mandatory data reporting that the companies have committed to would be done through an online portal administered by the Food Standards Agency, and made publicly available.

Dimbleby’s report is designed to bring about a historic change in the diets of the British public, helping to build a better, more sustainable food system and a healthier nation for future generations.

The report makes clear that substantial shifts in the nation’s diet are required if we are to reduce the environmental and health impacts of our consumption, while supporting the high standards of food, farming and animal welfare that the public expects.

In his National Food Strategy report, Dimbleby highlighted just why it is so vital that industry plays its part in improving people’s diets, citing statistics that the UK is now the second most overweight country in the G7, with more than 1 in 4 of our adult population obese.

The report also highlighted the Institute for Health’s annual estimate of how many years of healthy life have been lost to avoidable illness, disability and death, which found that four out of five top risk factors are diet-related– far outstripping smoking and alcohol. As things stand, obesity is expected to continue increasing until it peaks at 37% of the population in the mid-2030s. By 2035/36, Type 2 diabetes alone is projected to cost the NHS £15.1 billion a year, or 1.5 times as much as cancer does today. Halting this trajectory is the single biggest thing we can do to protect the future of our health service.