/ Food & Drink, Health

Can we trust food chains to make food healthier?

Burger with measuring tape

What do Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Asda have in common? They’ve all signed up to the ‘Responsibility Deal’ to bring us healthier foods. But will they stick to their promises?

It’s odd to see such a diverse range of organisations all agreeing to do the same thing, especially when that thing initially looks like it’ll be a lot of hard work without much profit. The government’s new ‘Responsibility Deal’ aims to get companies to make certain pledges to improve the health of the nation.

These include listing calories on menus (something I’m all for, although I know it’s been controversial!), removing artificial trans fats, and cutting the salt content in food. It sounds like a great plan, but there have been some hiccups.

What’s eating Diabetes UK?

So far, alongside such corporate behemoths as Coca-Cola and McDonalds, around 170 organisations support the pledges, including us.

But some health groups are concerned, particularly about the alcohol pledges, which they feel don’t go far enough to tackle health problems. Groups like Diabetes UK and the British Heart Foundation are so concerned that they’ve pulled out of the deal.

Yet, why is the government buddying up with McDonalds, Coca-Cola etc. on public health? Aren’t they just there to make money from us? Well, strictly speaking: yes. But there are many things that can impact their profits – consumer opinion, health scares, and regulation among many others. So it is possible that companies will stick to these pledges to avoid regulation in the future.

I think that if we can get companies to voluntarily make a difference that’s quite an achievement. We might even (beware: dangerous optimism ahead!) be able to encourage them to develop healthy foods, or make money by selling us more apples and fewer chips.

Will the Responsibility Deal make a difference?

The problem at the moment is that the list of 170 organisations is actually pretty short. There are thousands of companies selling food and drink in the UK, so we need to get more of them leaping onto the bandwagon for the Responsibility Deal to work.

At Which? we’ll be concentrating on how to make sure companies stick to these pledges. We’re talking to the government about monitoring those that have signed up, and we’re also planning investigations and mystery shops to make sure they each toe the line.

With the right delivery, the Responsibility Deal could deliver the health benefits on food that we’ve been campaigning on for years. But, in the meantime, we’d feel happier if more companies signed up. After all, what’s the use of a calorie count on your Big Mac if you can’t compare it to your Starbucks sandwich?

Sophie Gilbert says:
22 March 2011

I can’t fathom why there should be 2 thumbs down given to this convo. Let’s just make sure that Which?’s sceptical eye will indeed be concentrating on how to make sure companies stick to these pledges and so on. Can’t be bad for us consumers, surely.

Starbucks – Big chains not committing to provision of calorie labelling – ‘I suggest one way to influence Starbucks is to ensure those with Starbuck Accounts/Cards go direct to Starbucks to suggest they should align to this program – but do we know if Costa/Cafe Nero – there main competitors – are doing the same ?

Monika says:
23 March 2012

I’m skeptical – but it’s better to have them inside the tent …… than outside the tent …..you know the rest. What about if the Govt. insisted that these big food companies hire evidence based nutrition experts as advisors 😉 Just a thought….