Food & Drink Industry

What can Food and Drink companies do?

We know that food high in sugar, salt, saturated fats and refined carbohydrates (S3RC) is bad for our health. As are sugary drinks.

We also know that food and soft drink companies are marketing junk food to children online. 

That’s why many people now think the food industry is more important for health than the government and doctors (according to a survey by consumer experts, dunnhumby).

We also know that drinking too much alcohol is bad for our health, a major cause of anti-social behaviour in town centres and a major source of pressure on hospital A&E departments.

Many companies have committed to the government’s Responsibility Deal for Food and there has been progress on reducing levels of salt and trans-fat in the food they produce.

However, a review by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found limited information, reported in different ways by different companies. It also concluded:

  • Most Responsibility Development partners appear to have committed to interventions that probably were already underway.
  • The Responsibility Deal food pledges do not reflect the most effective strategies to improve diet – such as reducing sugar levels.
  • Voluntary agreements need to push partners to go beyond business as usual.

Media reports have also shown examples of backsliding by food companies, particularly when it comes to sugar. For example Action on Sugar reported that the highest sugar containing cereals have either stayed the same or increased since 2012.

There is also evidence of companies launching new products with even more sugar, like breakfast bars and breakfast drinks – which Kantar Worldpanel report have seen significant sales growth.

Overall the verdict appears to be that voluntary agreements, like the Responsibility Deal, have potential but much depends on their remit and how they are implemented and monitored.

To have credibility as a genuine contribution to public health there need to be:

  • Agreed targets in key areas like sugar reduction
  • An end to the targeting of junk food advertising at children
  • Independent assessment and verification arrangements – so we can be sure the food and drink companies are doing what they say they are doing.

A similar picture has emerged when reviewing the effectiveness of the Responsibility Deal on Alcohol.

 Recommendations 

Food and Soft Drink companies need to: 

  • Agree targets in key areas like sugar reduction
  • End the targeting of junk food advertising at children
  • Agree independent assessment and verification arrangements 

Alcoholic Drinks companies need to: 

  • Agree targets to reduce alcohol units, for example through lower alcohol drinks or minimum unit pricing
  • Use advertising to promote responsible drinking and lower alcohol drinks
  • Agree independent assessment and verification arrangements