Retail NZ general manager for public affairs Greg Harford acknowledged the debate around whether it is an individual person or a store’s responsibility to influence healthy eating decisions, but said retailers can help make a positive difference.
"While we believe that it is the responsibility of individuals to make their own food choices, retailers welcome the chance to work with Government agencies and the wider industry, to support initiatives which give consumers more information and education to make more informed choices about their food,” Harford says.
The two largest food retailers involved, Progressive Enterprises and Foodstuffs New Zealand, have both put together a list of strategies to help reduce childhood obesity.
Some of the key areas Foodstuffs has pledged to focus its efforts on are:
- Promoting healthy foods by reformulating private label products to improve their nutritional profile.
- Providing education on diet, nutrition and exercise through its Food for Thought Charitable Trust.
- Rolling out Health Star Ratings across its entire private label portfolio.
Foodstuffs managing director Steve Anderson says its company believes long-term change can be made if retailers help consumers make informed choices.
“We have committed to reformulate our private label products so that by the end of 2018 the sugar and sodium content will be reduced by 10 percent, and saturated fat content continues to be reduced across the range.”
Progressive Enterprises has also released its health and nutrition targets related to the pledge, which include:
- Nutritionally reviewing 1000 private label products by December 2018 and reformulating products where necessary.
- Increasing fresh fruit and vegetable sales over the next year, and continuing to open dedicated health food sections in Countdown stores.
- Having at least one confectionery-free checkout in 95 per cent of Countdown stores by the end of 2016.
- Introducing nutritional information on its website for its online customers.
- Continue its free fruit for kid by providing more than 50,000 pieces of fruit each week.
Heart Foundation food and nutrition manager Dave Monroe said Countdown is making positive moves towards encouraging healthy eating choices.
“While this pledge represents a great start, there is still a lot of opportunity for Countdown and other major industry players to do more in this space.”
No more 'pester power'
The companies involved in the pledge have also committed to the ethical and responsible advertising of food to children.
Both Progressive Enterprises and Foodstuffs has vowed to ensure all marketing activities comply with relevant ASA (Advertising Standards Association) codes, including an updated Code of Advertising to Children.
Progressive Enterprises is planning on implementing a responsible advertising policy before June next year.
This comes after a review by the ASA in February that assessed the children’s advertising codes, paying particular attention to ‘pester power’.
Both retailers’ campaigns gave away collectibles targeted at children when families spent a certain amount of money at the supermarkets.
Parents vented on social media about the toys being so sought after by their kids, they were being pressured into spending more money in order to get given them.
Encouraging children to urge their parents to buy a product is against the New Zealand ASA’s advertising to children code.
GoodSense managing director Kath Dewar also questioned the difference with playing shop and “being spoon-fed or marketed high sugar-type products through what the kids were playing with”, as many of the sponsors of the Little Shop campaign were “dubious”.
“[There were] lots of packaged goods and packaged foods when we need to be thinking about fresh foods,” she told StopPress.
Foodstuffs has since gone down a healthier route and traded Little Shop for Little Garden, a range of miniature collectable seedling kits.
Progressive is also being more socially conscious with its promotions aimed at kids.
It rolled out free fruit giveaways for kids in all of its stores nationwide in October last year.
Retail NZ’s Harford says food retailers have been focused on this area for some time.
“This includes cooperating with Auckland University public health researchers on a study on the relative healthiness of food environments and implementing the Health Star Rating on their private label products.
“The new pledge is a solid commitment to taking further action.”
He says other food retailers in New Zealand who are keen to come on board are welcome to join the pledge.
The pledge can be viewed in full detail on Retail NZ’s website here.