Mars Food teams with Partnership for a Healthier America to improve nutrition, transparency in 5 years

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

To help fight the good fight against the ongoing obesity epidemic in America, Mars Food is teaming with the Partnership for a Healthier America to offer more nutritious foods and increase access to dietary information as part of its aptly named global Health & Wellbeing Ambition. 

“When it comes to obesity and nutrition, they are very complex issues. … There is no one answer, and there is no right solution. But, I think, when you have the power of scale of people really coming together to attack a problem, that is when you are going to get the best results,” ​said Craig Annis, VP of corporate affairs at Mars Food.

And that is exactly what Mars Food US is doing by teaming with the nonprofit Partnership for a Healthier America.

The company announced May 19 at PHA’s Building a Healthier America Summit in Washington, DC, that by 2021 it will improve the nutritional quality across its product portfolio, including reducing sodium and added sugars, increasing vegetable servings, increasing whole grains and updating its nutrition criteria to reflect the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It also promised to provide more nutritional information on packaging and its websites and to encourage consumers to cook healthier meals.

The commitment is part of Mars Food’s larger global Heath & Wellness Ambition, which will roll-out over the next five areas and also will include exploring new formats and opportunities to offer products in more places at affordable prices and providing its associates ways to improve their wellbeing through education, cooking facilities and healthier food options, according to the company.

Improving nutritional content of products & meals

“Over the last couple of years, we have been looking at how we can achieve something really grand through our brands on behalf of our consumers. And so we set an ambition to serve a billion more healthy meals on dinner tables around the world. And in order to do that we though through what are the ways that we need to evolve our portfolio, leverage our brands and even engage with our associates to deliver against it,”​ Annis explained.

He noted that the company already has reduced sodium 25% across its portfolio in the last four years, and it will take out an additional 20% through this commitment.

The company believes it can further improve the nutritional value of meals based on its products by increasing the amount of fruits, vegetables and whole grains included in its on-pack recipes, which it found many consumers follow exactly.

Mars has already done this on its products sold in Australia and as a result saw a “massive increase in the consumption of vegetables,”​ Annis said.

He also challenged other manufacturers to follow Mars’ lead in improving on-pack recipes, noting, “if all food companies in America, and all over the world for that matter, changed the recipes on the back of pack, knowing that people follow them, knowing that people are looking for that direction and that support in the kitchen, imagine how many more fruits, vegetables and lean proteins people would be eating!”

Increase transparency

In addition to reformulating some products, Mars wants to meet consumer demand for increased transparency and to help them understand how to eat a more balanced diet, Annis said.

“From a transparency perspective, we know that consumers are desperate for information. They are not really wondering how snacks and treats play into their diets … because they know those are occasional treats, but they are wondering about main meals,”​ he said, explaining consumers want to know “where are the hidden sugars, the hidden fats, the sodium.”

By reducing these undesirable elements of packaged foods, and labeling higher fat and sugar-rich products as “occasional,”​ meaning once a week or less, Mars hopes to help consumers learn about moderation and balance, Annis said.

Improved affordability

Regarding affordability, Annis noted that many trends in the industry currently point to the development of healthier products, which “are great … but they may not be truly accessible to a lot of people, to the masses and that is what we really want to appeal to.”

He explained Mars is grappling with how to create healthier food that is easy, affordable and tasty.Specifically, he said, the company is exploring “how do we expand out into other categories, how do we think about how to use different platforms in order to provide products for people who can buy them at all levels.”

“Nothing ambitious is ever safe”

Mars Food’s sweeping commitment to PHA has some element of risk, given the company does not yet know how it will meet all of its goals, but Annis said company employees also are excited to work with each other and other players to meet the targets.

“Nothing ambitious is ever safe and is ever easy. If there is not some element of risk and a little bit of excitement then it is not truly, by definition, ambitious. So, we have got some work to do,”​ Annis said. But at the same time, “as we engage with these types of organizations and talk to others in industry and the excitement builds around what we are doing, we are actually starting to think about how do we accelerate beyond what we have said.”

Looking forward, he added, “We don’t have all the answers, but we will figure it out. You know, I think that the history of Mars Inc. is to make bold ambitions and then deliver on them and that is what we are going to do with this as well.”

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