We are supporting ShareAction’s Healthy Markets campaign, which aims to galvanise investors to ask UK food and drink manufacturers and retailers to produce and sell healthier, more affordable products; limit the marketing of unhealthy products to children; and encourage clear and accurate food labelling.
As part of this campaign ShareAction partnered with The Access to Nutrition Initiative (ATNI) to produce UK Supermarket Spotlight, an analysis of what the UK’s 10 largest food retailers say they are doing to tackle obesity.
This is the first report of its kind and provides crucial insight into levels of transparency around company health commitments and actions. Assessed against eight key criteria, the report found that none of the retailers scored higher than a D grade (on a scale of A-E), with the best performing retailer reporting on 35% of the indicators, and the worst reporting on 7%.
The report’s findings demonstrate a critical lack of disclosure by all 10 retailers. Against the eight key areas used to measure levels of disclosure (100% meaning total transparency), each supermarket chain scored as follows:
For those who already have internal nutrition plans, policies and data the recommendation is to put them into the public domain as soon as possible. Those who do not have well developed strategies are encouraged to do so, or risk jeopardising brand reputation with both investors and customers.
The review found that each of the eight key areas were reported on by at least one company, demonstrating that transparency across all areas is possible and raising the question of why disclosure levels are so low across the board.
Now we have a better understanding of how major retailers are performing, and a benchmark for what transparency looks like, we can track this over time.
Benchmarks are a powerful way of enabling comparisons between competitors, driving improvements as companies compete to be at the top of the chart (or at least avoid the bottom). ShareAction will harness this competition to push companies in the right direction, providing them well-researched and evidence-based actions to improve their scores.
This report sets a baseline for company disclosure, and the next benchmark must seek to set the baseline for actual activity. ATNI is planning a second report to be published in the next few years, which will gather both public and private data to review retailers commitment to the health agenda in practice. We encourage companies to embrace requests for data and use this as an opportunity to evaluate their strategic approach to nutrition.
ATNI has a well-established methodology for assessing food and beverage manufacturers which they demonstrated in the 2019 report. With support from other UK experts, they adapted this method to food retailers, focussing on eight key areas that demonstrate a supermarket’s commitment to health:
The scoring indicates levels of disclosure, ie. whether or not they publish information about each commitment. Based on these findings ATNI makes recommendations for ways that retailers can improve transparency, such as providing quantitative data and reporting against key financial metrics. The key ask is that supermarkets publish comprehensive strategies on nutrition and health, and set out clear plans, policies and data on their efforts to drive healthier food and drink consumption.
ShareAction will use this report to further galvanise investors to constructively engage with retailers, using this type of review as a way of tracking progress and accountability. Importantly, ShareAction’s approach leads with the business imperative rather than the moral argument, demonstrating that companies stand to lose profits if they don’t respond adequately to the health agenda.
We know that improving food environments is key to tackling childhood obesity and giving everyone access to healthy, affordable options. UK families spend just under 80% of their budget on food that is eaten at home at supermarkets, so these large retailers have a huge role to play in addressing unhealthy eating habits.
While systemic change is complex it is also possible. This report acts as a benchmark for retailers, investors and customers, to encourage the largest supermarket chains to take concerted action to tackle the country’s diet-related health challenges.
Good disclosure is an essential element of corporate accountability, and institutional investors are increasingly taking into account companies’ records on key issues like health. The report makes clear that failing to prioritise health commitments has serious commercial and financial risks, as well as societal ones. Willingness to be assessed is an important indication of the seriousness of food retailers to create a healthier future.
ATNI is an independent not-for-profit organisation that works to encourage the world’s largest food and beverage companies to do everything they can to address malnutrition. They strive to encourage ‘healthy competition’ among food and beverage companies by benchmarking efforts to address global nutrition challenges.
ShareAction is a campaigning organisation with experience of working with investors on the transition to production and consumption models that are better for the environment, health and society. Healthy Markets, the first campaign in their new Food and Health programme, aims to mobilise investors to tackle childhood obesity.
The aim is for companies to behave more responsibly in relation to the health of their customers, and for this to be driven by those invested in the relevant companies - investors who hold a significant amount of power and influence.