As winter approaches, health remains firmly at the forefront of food businesses minds. Interestingly however, companies are now not just developing healthier food and drink options to meet consumer needs but they are also looking to influence the health of their customers via the use of technology.

In this issue, we explore these exciting developments as well as looking into how big companies are using their size to bring about global change in the health and wellbeing of those who buy their products.

Healthier pledges by food and drink giants

Big players within the food and drink industry such as Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Kellogg’s, Unilever, General Mills, Nestlé and Mars, are uniting to improve their global health and wellness strategies for the next few years.

In a letter to World Health Organisation director general, Dr Margaret Chan, CEOs of the world’s leading food and non-alcoholic drinks companies, have announced global commitments to promote:

  1. Product formulation and innovation;
  2. Consumer information on pack and point of sale;
  3. Responsible advertising and marketing to children; and
  4. Promotion of healthy lifestyles.

The International Food & Beverage Alliance (IFBA) who represent these industry heavy weights, stated in the letter that, “Finding and implementing solutions to the world’s highly complex and multi-factorial health and wellbeing issues requires a whole-of-society effort and multi-stakeholder collaboration”.

Under the new commitment, which will be rolled out by end of 2016, companies are committing towards ‘harmonising nutrition criteria’ at a national and regional level, as well as ensuring that responsible advertising covers all media, including radio, cinema, direct marketing, mobile, interactive games, DVDs and product placement. In addition, IFBA members have agreed not to engage in food or drink product marketing communications to children in primary schools.

Large organisations coming together in this way highlights the length that companies are going to in order to improve their health and wellbeing credentials.

For Goodness Shakes launches a ‘kids range’ of dairy drinks

From 1st January 2015, a new set of School Food Standards will come into force, which all maintained schools, new academies and free schools will be legally required to follow.

Some brands are using this as a platform to tap into NPD to launch healthier drink options, which also meet the incoming standards strict criteria for drinks.

One brand doing just this is For Goodness Shakes, who have recently launched a kids range of low-sugar dairy drinks which will be pitched as an alternative to carbonated and other mainstream milkshake options.

Under the School Food Standards, flavoured milk must contain at least 90% milk by volume and less than 5% added sugar or honey to the milk component of the drink. For Goodness Shakes meets this criteria by containing 95% milk and just 1 teaspoon or 5g of added sugar per 235ml bottle (maximum portion size allowed is 330mls).

As health becomes increasingly regulated, it will be interesting to see how brands decide to embrace the regulations, perhaps using them as a launch pad for NPD which not only meets set criteria, but also customer expectations, as public education around health grows.

Most free-from buyers are free-from allergies

Food allergy is on the rise with around 1-2% of the adult population and 5-8% of children suffering with a food allergy.

It could be assumed therefore that the growing free-from market would be mainly satisfying the needs of allergy sufferers, with consumers who buy due to ‘lifestyle’ reasons being the smaller market share. However, a recent survey by YouGov found that 55% of free-from purchasers do not suffer or live with anyone who suffers from an allergy or intolerance. Whilst it has always been known that the free-from market attracts some lifestyle buyers, this recent survey suggests their numbers are greater than thought.

Louise Vacher, consulting director of YouGov, states that, “There is a massive market out there buying for reasons other than allergies or intolerances. This makes the market much larger than the small percentage of people who have intolerances.”

However, 48% of parents said there were not enough allergy or intolerance-specific products for children and 80% said they believed free-from products were too expensive.

Responsibility Deal – is it set to become law? 

The UK’s Responsibility Deal was established in 2011 and has been well adopted by food businesses. However, we cannot hide from the fact that despite considerable effort by many companies, obesity still continues to be a ticking time bomb within the UK and across the globe. Food and drink companies are not purely to blame for this growing problem as obesity is a complex, multi-factorial issue. Despite this, many feel that companies can and should be doing more.

A recent report called, Careless Eating Costs Lives, produced by think tank 2020health and funded by AB Sugar, states that the Responsibility Deal should be turned into law. It calls for a rethink of public health strategy to tackle the ‘drastic effects’ of the crisis on society and economy as a whole, with the proposed new legislation coming into effect over the next 5-10 years. They go on to say that the Responsibility Deal has made a good start, but this needs to be built upon and developed further into a clear and legislative framework, which all companies would be forced to follow.

Increasing health-related legislation around food and food choice is an emotive topic. However, companies should prepare for the fact that it is becoming increasingly likely that legislation will be bought in within certain areas, in order to help curb the effect that obesity and diet-related diseases are having on society and the NHS.

Unilever trials a wristband telling shoppers how to be healthier

In light of the current health focus, brands are not just concerned about providing healthier food and drink offerings but they are also increasingly looking to improve their consumers health prior to them buying their products.

For example, Unilever has piloted a wrist band that monitors shoppers’ habits and prompts them to lead healthier lifestyles. The device has been coined a ‘behaviour engine’ by Unilever and works in conjunction with an app. This symbiotic relationship works by the wristband recording sleep patterns and physical activity levels, whilst the app tracks buying behaviour, nutrition habits and other elements of shoppers’ lifestyles.

According to consumer industries director Dr Keith Nornman, the system is there to, “Capture atoms of behaviour as participants go about their usual day”, which is then translated into, “Hints and tips to encourage healthier behaviour”.

Virtual health certainly seems to be on the rise and it will be interesting to see how this concept develops and whether other major brands decide to use technology as a way of influencing and educating the health of their consumers.