We’ve been scrutinising our food lately – especially when it comes to food which might not be quite as healthy as it’s made out to be. Are supermarkets and food manufacturers offering enough healthy choices?
This year we’ve looked at sandwiches that contain more fat than you might think, cereals that can be as sugary as sweets and cereal bars that are not necessarily the healthiest start to the day.
We have succeeded in convincing the government and retailers that we need traffic light labels to help people make healthier choices and better understand what is in their food. But shouldn’t our food be better for you in the first place?
In our sandwiches Conversation, commenter Deirdre mentioned that food companies should just use less salt and sugar. That’s what we want to see too. And the government’s Responsibility Deal is trying to achieve this.
Committing to healthier food
The Responsibility Deal is a government initiative whereby food companies sign up to a series of voluntary pledges. The pledges include reducing salt in their foods and encouraging consumers to eat more fruit and vegetables.
But we think that progress is slow and the Responsibility Deal is not ambitious enough to ensure that we really do have healthy choices. We sent an open letter to public health minister Anna Soubry asking for swift action from the government.
Our new report ‘A Taste for Change’ assesses the progress that 20 food companies are making to help me and you ensure that we are not eating more fat, sugar and salt than we realise. The report investigated 10 of the major supermarkets and 10 large food manufacturers including Kraft, Coca Cola, Nestlé and Kelloggs.
We assessed the companies against a variety of criteria, including the action they’ve taken to lower saturated fat, sugar and calorie content and the clarity of their nutrition labelling.
The Co-operative ahead of the pack
We found that The Co-operative is currently leading the way among the ten largest supermarkets for helping its customers eat healthily. It uses the best traffic light scheme and in 2011, 34% of promotions were on healthier products.
Unfortunately, Iceland is lagging behind. It has not committed to reducing salt or calories and is still the only supermarket with no nutrition information on the front of food packaging. It has said it will use the traffic light system in 2013, however.
Red light for food manufacturers
Food manufacturers have generally been less pro-active than retailers, with none of the companies we looked at yet committed to using traffic light labelling.
No company comes out as best or worst across all of the areas, but PepsiCo stands out for scoring high on corporate commitment and one of the companies taking more action on salt, saturated fat and sugar reductions.
We have been working with the government to make sure that the Responsibility Deal has more teeth and really pushes companies to make sure that the food we eat is good for us.
Should the government be passing laws to force companies to take responsibility? Or should companies be left to their own devices to make change voluntarily?