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European food groups edging past US rivals in obesity focus

By Neil Merrett , 11-Apr-2008

European-based food groups are generally ahead of their US rivals in providing health and wellness products to consumers, though they must do more to ensure the focus is a core part of their business, a new report claims.

Obesity has become a major concern for food and drinks manufacturers in recent years, with healthier solutions proving increasingly lucrative amidst growing consumer and regulatory pressures over health.

 

 

 

Producers must therefore look to outline health objectives, while also ensuring nutritious products are available to all markets and lower income consumers, according to the report by Insight Investment and JPMorgan.

 

 

 

The new findings were made to look at the efforts of ten leading global food and beverage makers in marketing and producing nutrition products in a bid to fight obesity.

 

 

 

The research suggests that firms such as Danone, Unilever and Nestle, which have actively sought to rebrand themselves as key players in the nutrition market, were better positioned to profit from this focus than their American counterparts.

 

 

"The three leading European companies appear genuinely to have integrated health and wellness concerns into their core business strategy," the report stated. "Their programmes have global reach whereas those of the US companies tend to focus only on their home market but not on addressing rising rates of obesity in the developing world."

 

 

Study groups

 

 

The practices of ten companies were reviewed for the report. These were:

 

 

  • Danone
  • Unilever
  • Nestle
  • Kellogg
  • Cadbury Schweppes
  • Kraft
  • Heinz
  • PepsiCo
  • Coca Cola
  • Premier Foods

Focus divide

 

 

The report suggested that the companies leading the focus on fighting obesity had shown willingness to review and reformulate products based on agreed international guidelines. Unilever in particular was singled out in the report for reviewing 27,000 products within its portfolio of goods, according to the findings.

 

 

 

However, it added that some US companies had been found to use a more "ad-hoc" approach of reformulation, committing only to the removal of specific nutrients like fats, salt or sugars.

 

 

 

Industry communication

 

 

 

Despite a possible geographic divide in reformulation policy, the researchers said that not one of the companies studied had set out clear and comprehensive objectives or targets relating to their obesity strategy, creating difficulties for stakeholders to keep informed of any changes.

 

 

 

This was linked by the report to an industry-wide concern over reporting of obesity strategy by food groups.

 

 

 

"All companies do a bad job of reporting on the progress they have made in reformulating their products (and the impact that has had on their businesses) and indeed on their whole health and wellness programmes," the report stated.

 

 

 

Labelling and marketing

 

 

 

Labelling was highlighted as another area of concern by the report's authors, who claimed that while processors were moving towards adopting the 'big 8 back-of-pack' nutrient labelling system, there were still discrepancies in front of pack labelling.

 

 

 

The report said that the use of company specific labelling formats and logos was serving to create some confusion amongst consumers.

 

 

 

Inconsistency amongst how producers were addressing responsible marketing, for both children and adults alike, was also seen as another major problem.

 

 

 

"While companies' policies have improved a great deal in the last couple of years, due to pressure from US and EU policymakers and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), few have adopted fully comprehensive policies on a global basis that apply to all media," the report stated.

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