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food firms are falling short

March 2007

No leading food company has yet produced a comprehensive social responsibility programme on health and obesity, according to a new study.

The analysis of 25 multinationals by Insight Investment and the International Business Leaders’ Forum has found progress generally slow despite the ‘strengthening imperative for companies to raise their game’ in the area of consumer health. Pockets of good practice exist but ‘no one company has yet adopted and fully communicated publicly a comprehensive response, applied in all markets, for all products and divisions’.

The report, A recipe for success, says manufacturers ‘seem to be more engaged and more advanced’ than food service companies or retailers, and that listed companies have ‘more fully developed responses’ than private businesses.

However, none of the 25 companies assessed, which included Cadbury Schweppes, Kraft, Unilever, Tesco and McDonalds, had yet conveyed clear objectives applicable to the whole business, or a strategy to achieve them. Furthermore, few companies had set targets and fewer had produced key performance indicators. Insight and the IBLF said food companies should, as soon as possible, publish indicators on areas such as their annual research and development spending on ‘healthier’ products and the proportion of products containing transfats.

Both organizations claim most companies have failed to start accounting for consumer health concerns in their core business activities or to adopt policies at board level. They say ‘further thinking and action’ on responsible marketing, especially to children, is needed, and that companies should invite their critics to join formal advisory panels or work in partnership with consumer groups.

The World Health Organization says a billion adults are overweight, and at least 300 million of these clinically obese. The IBLF and Insight recognize that companies do not have sole responsibility, but say action is needed now to protect revenues, ensure consumer trust, and avoid regulation and costly, brand-damaging litigation.



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