Four of the world’s biggest food manufacturers are over reliant on the sales of unhealthy food despite each claiming to be active in improving the healthfulness of their products – that’s according to NEW analysis published today by expert research group, World Action on Salt, Sugar & Health (WASSH) and supported by responsible investment NGO, ShareAction.
Both organisations are now calling for ALL global food manufacturers to disclose what proportion of their sales can be classed as ‘healthier’ against government endorsed models and set meaningful targets to increase these figures and improve access and availability to healthier food.
WASSH assessed more than 2,000 products produced and sold by global food and drink companies Danone, Kellogg’s, Kraft Heinz, Nestlé and Unilever in three of their biggest markets – Australia, France, and Mexico[i]. Using government-endorsed definitions of what constitutes healthier food and drink, many of these products would be classified as ‘unhealthy’ – the exception being Danone with only 35% deemed unhealthy.
Out of the 2,346 products analysed, the country with the highest proportion of unhealthy products made by these five manufacturers was in Australia (65%), followed by France (63%) and Mexico (60%). The products were assessed using three of the most widely used government-approved front of pack labelling models – Health Star Rating (HSR), Nutri-Score and Warning Labels.
Danone was the only manufacturer with a greater share of healthier products available in each of the three countries. The remaining four manufacturers performed poorly across all three markets, with more than half of their surveyed food and drink portfolio below a standard definition of ‘healthy’.
Table 1. Proportion of products below standard definition of ‘healthy’, based on respective front of pack labelling models
|Overall Country Score
|Overall Company Score
Mhairi Brown, Policy, Public Affairs and International projects lead for World Action on Salt, Sugar & Health (WASSH), said: “Improving the nutritional content of food and drink by reformulating recipes with less salt, sugar and saturated fat is by far the most important strategy that any company should make to improve public health.
“However, by relying solely on industry’s willingness and without government enforcement, we are unlikely to see a meaningful shift. We need to see government leadership across the sector, with strict measures to include mandatory targets for reformulation.”
This comes as investors are increasingly concerned about exposure to regulatory risk if companies fail to reduce their reliance on the sales of unhealthy products. Government-approved models defining the healthfulness of a food or drink, such as the UK’s nutrient profiling model, or Warning labels in Mexico are being used by regulators to apply increasingly robust restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy products worldwide.
In the UK, manufacturers such as Premier Foods, AG Barr and Britvic are mitigating this risk by setting voluntary targets to help increase the longer-term sales of healthy foods. In the absence of mandatory regulation, ShareAction and WASSH are urging all global food manufacturers to adopt similar practices.
Holly Gabriel, Campaign Lead for Consumer Health at ShareAction, said: “Across the world manufacturers are over-reliant on the sales of unhealthy foods. These products are contributing to a global public health crisis, including the significant rises in type two diabetes and obesity. Food manufacturers must be more transparent and disclose what proportion of their sales can be classed as ‘healthier’. Both Danone and Unilever have done this, with Nestlé committing to do the same. This disclosure must be followed with meaningful targets to grow the proportion of sales coming from healthier food and drink.
Food companies and investors that fail to adapt to increasing government regulation to improve health and growing public demand for healthier products face financial risks and will ultimately lose share”.
Today’s analysis builds on UK research from ShareAction and Action on Salt in July 2022[ii] which found that over half of these manufacturers’ ‘flagship’ products in the UK are unhealthy or high in fat, salt and/or sugar (HFSS). Despite regulatory action to boost nutrition and growing public demand for healthier foods, manufacturers globally continue to fall behind other sectors in setting meaningful targets to improve nutrition.
In November 2022, investors representing $5 trillion in assets under management, including Actiam, Groupe La Française, Guy’s & St. Thomas’ Foundation, Legal & General Investment Management, Mitsubishi UFJ Trust & Banking Corporation, Rathbone Greenbank Investment Management and Grünfin, wrote to global food manufacturers including Danone, Kellogg’s, Kraft Heinz and Nestlé to request that they improve disclosure and set targets to increase the healthiness of their sales.
World Action on Salt, Sugar & Health (WASSH) aim to improve the health of populations throughout the world by achieving reductions in salt, sugar and calorie intake. WASSH provides resources and expert advice to enable the development and implementation of salt, sugar and calorie reduction programmes worldwide. WASSH have a global network of more than 600 expert members in 100 countries (www.worldactiononsalt.com).
ShareAction is an NGO working globally to define the highest standards for responsible investment and drive change until these standards are adopted worldwide. We mobilise investors to take action to improve labour standards, tackle climate change and address pressing global health issues (https://shareaction.org).
[i] For more detail on the methodology and survey, please see visit our website [include link when live].
[ii] In July Action on Salt and ShareAction conducted a pilot study focused on the same five food manufacturers’ product ranges in the UK, which found that one in three products surveyed within the Department of Health’s salt reduction programme failed to meet their targets
The Access to Nutrition Index found similar results in its report on the comparative nutritional profile of manufacturers products across 25 markets, with Danone scoring highest based on the proportion of its products classified as healthy.