New report by The Food Foundation calls for food businesses to commit to reporting health and sustainability data and targets

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4 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland

Some food businesses are successfully starting to tackle their impact on the environment, but more work is needed to address their human impact, according to the third yearly overview of the UK food industry from The Food Foundation, Plating Up Progress.

Improvements mostly need to be seen in the out-of-home food sector, where restaurants, caterers and wholesalers have not been as quick as supermarkets in reporting their sales-based data for fruit and vegetables, protein source, food waste and healthy vs. unhealthy foods. The pandemic was suggested to be partly behind this pause in progress.

Only four out of the eighteen restaurants, caterers and wholesalers assessed by the Food Foundation had committed to selling more vegetables. One of these was Greggs, which now aims to have 30% healthier choices available in their stores by 2025.

Health-related commitments in casual dining and quick service businesses were also less visible this year, the report says.

Supermarkets outperformed other sectors, setting targets for, and reporting consistently on sales-based data about their levels of both healthy and sustainable products. However, only five out of 11 now have targets for sales of healthy or healthier food, compared to two this time last year.

Over the past year, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, M&S, Lidl and Aldi all set targets for selling healthy or healthier foods in their stores.

Lidl created a public target to increase the amount of fruit and vegetables on sale, while Sainsbury’s aims to meet their target of increasing the amount of total sales tonnage that comes from vegetables.

Tesco and Sainsbury’s are also now reporting the number of plant-based products in their protein sales (12% for Tesco and 10% for Sainsbury’s.)

One of the recommendations in Plating Up Progress 2021 was that all out-of-home food sectors as well as retailers try to use similar methodologies to set their targets and determine progress.

There were also calls for the Government to determine if food businesses need to include information in their reports regarding how they have made their products healthier, instead of just labelling them as healthy or unhealthy.

It has also been suggested that the Government needs to monitor how the food industry is reaching the targets for reducing carbon footprint and improving the nation’s health, set out in the National Food Strategy, published in July of this year. The strategy proposes that large food companies, including retailers, restaurants and quick service companies, publish an annual report on:

  • Sales of food and drink high in fat, sugar or salt (HFSS) excluding alcohol
  • Sales of protein by type (of meat, dairy, fish, plant, or alternative protein) and origin
  • Sales of vegetables
  • Sales of fruit
  • Sales of major nutrients: fibre, saturated fat, sugar and salt
  • Food waste
  • Total food and drink sales

This National Food Strategy also sets targets for all national diets to have 30% more fruit and vegetables, 50% more fibre, 25% fewer foods with high levels of salt, sugars, and fats, and 30% less meatby 2032.

Despite slower progress with regards to reporting on and creating health-based targets across a large section of the food industry, all 11 supermarkets and 13 restaurants, caterers and wholesalers were found to be following net zero climate change targets or analysing their scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions.

How these businesses will reduce these emissions is yet to be seen, however. Tesco is currently the only business to have set a target on having more plant-based proteins in store – they hope to have increased the amount by 300% by 2025.

“Making progress here and connecting scope 3 targets to sales of proteins and issues relating to deforestation and land use conversion in supply chains is going to be crucial”, the Food Foundation report says.

29 food companies were analysed in the 2021 Plating Up Progress report, from supermarkets, contract caterers and wholesalers to quick-service restaurants, casual dining restaurants and businesses that are publicly listed or owned by publicly listed parent companies.

Plating Up Progress assesses the progress being made by major UK-operating businesses within the food retail, catering and restaurant chain sectors across key themes relating to the transition to a healthy and sustainable food system. The analysis is based on information in the public domain, using existing benchmarks, corporate reports and websites, with a fact-checking period provided for each company.

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