UK

Campaigners ‘name and shame’ firms over junk food portfolios

A study claims seven of the 10 biggest food manufacturers made 68% of their packaged food and drink sales in the UK in 2022 from junk food.

Researchers analysed 241 packaged food and drink brands and more than 5,000 products
Junk food sales Researchers analysed 241 packaged food and drink brands and more than 5,000 products (Ben Birchall/PA)

Health campaigners backed by former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance have named companies they claim are reliant on selling unhealthy food to children.

Youth food campaign Bite Back, which was founded by chef Jamie Oliver, said Ferrero and Mondelez had the unhealthiest portfolios with an estimated 100% and 98% of their sales in 2022 coming from products such as Kinder Surprise and Freddo bars.

Researchers at Oxford University found seven of the 10 biggest global food manufacturers made more than two thirds (68%) of their packaged food and drink sales in the UK in 2022 from products high in fat, sugar or salt (HFSS).

After Ferrero and Mondelez, Unilever had the highest proportion of sales from unhealthy products at 84%, followed by Kellogg’s at 77%, according to the study.

Both Ferrero and Unilever disputed the report’s findings, claiming the study did not take their entire range of products into account.

Researchers analysed 241 packaged food and drink brands and more than 5,000 products, concluding that the business models of some of the biggest, most successful global food companies operating in the UK were reliant on selling food and drinks that are harmful to children’s health.

The study found food manufacturers in the UK spent £55 million in 2022 on online adverts for food and drink products from four food categories associated with children’s excess sugar and calorie intake – chocolate (£40,948,000), crisps (£9,300,538), biscuits (£2,869,605) and ice cream (£1,971,071).

Bite Back said seven businesses were responsible for more than 90% of online advertising spending in the UK in 2022 by manufacturers for chocolate, crisps, biscuits and ice cream.

The group said it was launching its ‘FuelUsDontFoolUs’ campaign at a time when nearly one in three children were at risk of food-related illness.

Sir Patrick said: “The young people at the heart of Bite Back have rightly called time on an industry that is maximising profit over their health.

“We now need to listen to them and put their voices and their interests at the heart of political and business decision-making.

“The evidence set out in this report highlights the need for urgent action – from the food industry itself and from the Government – to ensure businesses don’t shirk their responsibilities and continue to fail future generations of children.”

Bite Back has written to the top 10 global food manufacturing companies, calling on them to stop “misleading” young people with marketing tactics, including advertising and packaging that deliberately targets children and young people, and end health claims that hide the unhealthy aspects of their products.

Bite Back chief executive James Toop said: “Our research shows that while food companies say they are part of the solution, in reality their business model is based on successfully promoting unhealthy food to children.

“We are sleepwalking into a preventable health crisis. Both government and businesses need to take action so that manufacturers sell more healthy food and stop the advertising and misleading tactics that target young people.”

Oxford University researcher Dr Lauren Bandy said: “These findings are consistent with other research that has shown the reliance that leading food and drink companies have on sales of unhealthy products.

“These businesses dominate the market and while many claim they are making progress to reformulate and make their products healthier, we need stronger commitments and a greater rate of change if we are to see a meaningful reduction in diet-related disease, both in the UK and globally.”

A spokeswoman for Kellanova, the owner of Kellogg’s, said: “We offer a broad range of products to meet our shoppers’ needs, whether that’s a tube of Pringles to share with friends, a family breakfast cereal that’s lower in sugar or an indulgent cereal for a treat.

“We understand we have a role to help people make healthier choices. That’s why since 2011, we’ve reduced sugar across our cereals by 18% and salt by 23%. Four out of our five top-selling cereals are non-HFSS.

“For those who want to know more about the nutritionals of our foods, we show exactly what and how much is in there by putting traffic light labelling on our cereal boxes. That way people can decide if the food is for them.”

A Ferrero spokesman said: “The Ferrero data in Bite Back’s analysis does not reflect all our non-HFSS product portfolio as these have been excluded.

“At Ferrero, we make unique high-quality products and are constantly evolving our portfolio to meet a wide range of consumer needs to provide choice. Over 90% of our products come in portions of less than 150 calories.

“As a responsible company, we believe the best way we can help support our consumers is to offer our products in small, individually wrapped portions with clear nutritional labelling and support with education on how to enjoy our products as part of a balanced lifestyle.”

Unilever said: “The statistics Bite Back have included in their report are based on looking at only 63% of our products, rather than our full product range and are therefore not an accurate representation. Our own published data, capturing 100% of our products in the UK, shows that 32% of our portfolio is non-HFSS.

“We continue to take action to reduce the salt, sugar and calories in our products, keeping their great taste, as well as offering choice to our shoppers by introducing healthier variants to our ranges and in 2003 we were one of the first companies to apply principles for responsible marketing of foods and beverages to children.

“All of our children’s ice creams are under 110 calories and non-HFSS, such as Wall’s Twister products, and we have lower sugar and salt options for some of our best-loved products including Marmite Reduced Salt, Ben & Jerry’s Lighten Up, Carte D’Or Vanilla Light, Hellmann’s Lighter Than Light mayonnaise and Knorr Zero Salt.”