Healthy Food

How industry can take a lead on food insecurity and help healthy decisions | Comment & Opinion

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The global food industry has made an enormous contribution to rising living standards across the world. More people than ever have access to affordable, healthy food, and can make positive choices for their families. There is much to celebrate.

But food insecurity still blights the lives of millions of people. And at the other extreme, more than two billion people worldwide are overweight or obese. The prevalence of diabetes is expected to increase by nearly 50% from 2017 to 2045. With an ageing population, these and other health challenges will put increasing pressure on healthcare systems and resources across the globe.

Communities are demanding change, and the clamour has become louder during the pandemic, which has worsened many inequalities in society. Whether you live in Buenos Aires or Bangkok, London or Lusaka, it is likely that the pandemic will have been the moment when you made a commitment to changes in your life. Families want to live better and also make a positive contribution to the environment around them.

This is a vital time for industry to ensure that healthier decisions become easier and habitual for people everywhere. To help meet this need, The Consumer Goods Forum is exploring, experimenting, innovating and evolving business models to support positive change, while sharing knowledge at scale. Bringing together the senior leaders from more than 400 retailers, manufacturers and other stakeholders across 70 countries, we are all about competitors putting competition aside, to help find and share solutions that will make the world a better place.

Our Collaboration for Healthier Lives (CHL) initiative encapsulates industry’s desire to take a lead. CHL is a global movement delivering local interventions around the world. Over the past three years, it has launched more than 70 initiatives involving more than 100 organisations, reaching more than 2.6 billion consumers. By assessing these interventions, we are building insights on the vital success factors manufacturers and retailers must consider when designing programmes to drive healthier lives.

We know that approaches must be audience and locality-specific to be successful – on the ground and personalised approaches are key. Businesses have the advantage of strong audience data and segmentation, which can be used to really help understand the barriers, motivators and needs of diverse audience groups.

For example, research showed that price was a key barrier to healthy eating for many people in the London boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark. Acting on that, Tesco UK launched a targeted pricing promotion. Its ‘Fresh 3’ programme rotated three different packs of fresh fruit or vegetables on special offer, resulting in a double-digit increase in sales. Following the pilot’s success, the programme was rolled out nationally.

Building on existing local insights is also key. By anchoring programmes in the health objectives set by local authorities, businesses can leverage local expertise, infrastructure and resources – ultimately fast-tracking positive impacts.

Of course, companies need to measure their achievements and learnings to help refine, share and scale up what works. Academic partners can help with this – in the UK, CHL partnered with the University of Oxford to help independently evaluate our work. But businesses must be willing to share their data and engage academic partners early in the process.

The scale of the health challenge ahead is vast – but so is the opportunity. Many businesses are already embedding themselves deeper into the communities they help to nourish – stepping up their efforts to enable people to lead fuller, healthier, longer and more productive lives.

With the feeling of shared endeavour as we start to emerge from the worst grips of the pandemic, and several key milestones approaching, now is to time to catalyse greater collective action. 2021 is the Nutrition for Growth Year of Action, culminating in the Nutrition for Growth Summit in December – which provides a major opportunity to transform the way the world tackles malnutrition. Momentum is also building around September’s UN Food Systems Summit, which will shine a light on how to leverage food systems to deliver progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.

We must seize the moment. Organisations throughout the farm to fork process must innovate, collaborate and commit to help achieve healthier lives, and global businesses fit for our future.