Supermarkets improve access to healthy food as M&S boss warns of further price hikes

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AUTHOR: Molly Long

Several of the UK’s top supermarkets have taken action to help more customers access healthy food, as increasing inflation risks pushing people to cheaper and less nutritious options.

It was announced this week that inflation hit 9% in April – the highest level since the 1980s. This has, and will continue to have, a marked effect on food production prices.

M&S Chairman Archie Norman has warned prices in his supermarket’s Food Halls could increase by 10%. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he predicted there was “more to come”, given that many supermarkets have so far swallowed the higher costs associated with stocking shelves.

What’s happening is global prices are rising, it’s not to do with UK food so much as the effect of freight costs, wheat prices, oil and energy prices knocking onto almost everything,” he said. “As a consequence, all food retailers in the UK are – because we operate on very thin margins – going to have to reluctantly allow some food price inflation to run through the system.”

Alongside the Government’s U-turn on HFSS legislation, inflation has provoked considerable worry among campaigners that those on lower incomes could be priced out of healthy nutritious food.

In response, ‘Big Four’ retailer Tesco has launched the Better Baskets campaign which aims to help customers choose more nutritious foods at lower prices.

The initiative will see the establishment of Better Basket ‘zones’ in-store – which will be clearly signposted and filled with foods that are high in fibre, plant-based, low and no alcohol and low calorie.

The majority of the products included will be available through some kind of discount offer.

Alessandra Bellini, Tesco Chief Customer Officer, said: “We understand that customers want to make better choices but not have to pay more. Our Better Baskets campaign means there is no compromise.”

As part of the programme, Tesco has also partnered with TV Chef Jamie Oliver to develop a series of nutritious recipes. Oliver has been vocal about the choice to postpone HFSS legislation and the impact this will have on addressing the country’s growing obesity crisis in adults and children. He said the move was indicative of the Government’s “inability to accept positive change”.

Speaking to radio presenter James O’Brien on LBC, he said: “At a time when child health has worsened over the pandemic so that now 1 in 4 children leave primary school with obesity, and people who live in lower income areas are twice as likely to be affected, you are delaying policies that are both vital for levelling up and popular with 74% of the public.”

Beyond Tesco, Sainsbury’s has also taken steps to improve access to healthy food. The supermarket is working with Scottish research centre The Rowett Institute on a three-year programme to analyse shoppers’ buying habits and how healthier choices could be encouraged.

The £1.6 million study is being financed by UK Research and Innovation and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and will explore how actions like sharing recipe ideas, pop-up promotions, fruit and vegetable prominence in-stores and practical advice could impact customer decisions.

Professor Alexandra Johnstone, who works at the institute, said the programme was a crucial step. Speaking to The Press and Journal, she said: “With the cost-of-living crisis, it is only going to get harder for people to make healthier food choices.

“For families on low incomes, 76% of monthly food budgets are spent in supermarkets. So, decisions that the retail food sector makes around advertising, promotions and in-store design have a huge impact on public health within this vulnerable group.”

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