One of the UK's prominent food corporations, Danone UK & Ireland, known for its Actimel yoghurt brand, believes that the government needs to play a more significant role in encouraging healthier consumer choices. They point out that several UK food firms are slow in transitioning towards healthier products.
James Mayer, Danone UK & Ireland's president, commented, "The pace at which the UK food sector is enhancing the nutritional profile of its goods is insufficient. Government intervention is now essential."
This marks a pivotal moment when a major player in the food industry demands robust government action amid increasing obesity rates. Recent health statistics indicate that 64% of English adults are either overweight or obese.
Danone's call to action follows Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's remarks on the potential of new obesity drugs being transformative. With this, the government faces growing demands to adopt more proactive obesity prevention measures.
Previously, Henry Dimbleby, the government's ex-adviser on food matters, resigned due to perceived inaction from the ministry. A proposed ban on advertising high-sugar and high-fat foods on TV before 9 pm has been delayed until 2025.
Mayer emphasises the need for clearer industry standards. He suggests, "The government must shift from a cautious approach to one that offers a transparent framework for both the industry and consumers regarding healthy products."
Danone envisions industry-wide motivations to adopt healthier and more sustainable products. This could involve more transparent food and beverage data, stricter advertising restrictions for unhealthy products, and possibly adjusting VAT rates based on a product's health credentials.
While Danone does not advocate for higher overall grocery expenses, they do suggest re-evaluating taxes to promote healthier products and tax those laden with sugar and fat. Presently, most grocery items are VAT-exempt, with exceptions such as ice cream and certain biscuits. Danone suggests revisiting this exemption for unhealthy products.
Having previously owned renowned biscuit brands, Danone sold its biscuit division to Kraft Food in 2007. The company now focuses on healthier offerings, with 90% of their UK product sales being non-HFSS (high in fat, sugar, or salt). They've also pledged not to manufacture such products for kids.
Conversely, Nestlé faced recent backlash for introducing a KitKat breakfast cereal containing almost a quarter sugar. Despite labelling it "nutritious," the company later removed the term following protests.
Nestlé maintains that they are dedicated to creating healthier brands, with 84% of their UK cereal range being non-HFSS. They also express openness towards effective UK regulations that foster genuine innovation and desired health outcomes.
Professor Graham MacGregor, chair of Action on Sugar, criticised the government's apparent lax stance on the food industry while potentially spending substantial amounts on new obesity drugs.
The government has already taken steps like limiting the display of unhealthy foods in stores and will soon regulate offers like "buy one, get one free".
The Food and Drink Federation responded saying that while they are committed to improving nutritional content, additional taxes might hinder rather than help this process due to financial constraints.
Lastly, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson highlighted their efforts to combat unhealthy foods, citing notable reductions in sugar content in various products. They assured continued collaboration with the industry to promote healthier choices.