A Deep Dive into Health with IGD

The first of our seminar series from this year's IFE - the IGD Deep Dive: Health

April 11, 2024
Naomi Barry
Checking Food Labels
April 11, 2024
Naomi Barry

At this year’s IFE we were lucky enough to attend a number of insightful seminar sessions from the team at IGD, offering a real flavour for the issues affecting society and how the food and consumer goods industry can drive change through trusted insight, ‘straight from the heart of retail’.

In the first of our seminar series, we’ll share an overview of the IGD Deep Dive into the Health Landscape, looking at the evolution of policy, shopper perceptions, global activation – and the results of trials showing what really works for UK shoppers.

Evolution of policy

The talk started by taking us through an overview of why health legislation is evolving.  On the surface, since 1990 worldwide obesity has more than doubled, with 59% of European adults now classed as overweight or obese (and 1 in 3 children), with the UK ranking 4th globally.  In Europe alone the cost of obesity accounts for 8% of total health costs - €70 billion each year - and is among the leading cause of death and disability (contributing to 13% total mortality).

A sorry picture indeed, and it’s clear that something needs to change, and fast.  But of course, the reality is not quite so simple.  Health is a complex topic to navigate and comes with its global challenges too, which makes keeping up with the legislation time consuming, and dare we say, at times confusing. 

At home, the ongoing public health challenge, and associated cost, is accelerating legislation and policy change.  In response to HFSS, the soft-drinks industry levy and front of pack nutrition labelling, we’ve seen product and packaging reformulation, marketing reform and transformation of space/displays instore.  But with a general election on the horizon, there’s an absence of clarity over future policy.  Here, IGD expect to see a more proactive approach from industry, sharing of global best practice, and studies into new areas, like ultra-processed foods.

And across the globe regulations policy and legislation continue to evolve, with examples including:

· California banning the sale of food and drinks containing four additives over concerns of their links to certain diseases by 2027

· Ireland increasing health labelling on alcohol to include calorie content as well as health warnings about consumption

· South Korea displaying caffeine warning signs in 700 convenience stores located close to schools

· Colombia introducing an ultra-processed food tax of 20% by 2025, with mandatory health warnings required on front-of-pack

· And in China, the Shanghai Health Commission trialling labels for sugary drinks, across supermarkets, restaurants, cafes and vending.

Shopper perception

When it comes to health and food, our thoughts and choices fall across a broad spectrum – and ultimately, we all make very personal decisions based on our own definition of what is ‘healthy’. 

According to IGD 2022 research, shoppers said they aspired to eat healthier, with the top 3 focus areas being eating more fruit and veg, drinking more fluids and reducing snacking.  Comparing these results with 2023 data, reducing sugar has risen as a focus area for shoppers, now ranking second. And it’s a key consideration for consumers who check the contents of their food (alongside fat). At point of purchase, it’s the 3rd most important factor in deciding whether a product is healthy or not.  Here communicating low or no sugar is key; as is demonstrating added health credentials like fibre and vitamins – as well as fat and calorie content.

But despite what shoppers say they do, this doesn’t always translate into purchase and as a result, obesity continues to rise in the UK.  There is good work being done, but shoppers reveal that they are still confused by nutritional information on pack – being too small to read/confusing (49%), not believing claims made (43%) and concerns over nutritional information being correct (41%).  So, there’s certainly headroom to improve messaging and consumer trust, all while allowing shoppers to make their own decisions.

Activating health globally

What are the latest innovations taking place across the globe to help shoppers make these better choices?

· Signposting – creating instore theatre for healthier options with eye-catching displays taking centre stage instore and combining multiple categories into a healthy eating section

· Placement – putting healthier options in easy to spot, convenient locations, i.e. MyProtein vending machines in gyms, and Huel vending in airports where healthy options are often limited

· Influence – nudging shoppers towards healthier choices by linking instore activation to outdoor activities, like Robinsons AR game to collect fruits in green spaces.  While apps like Yuka help shoppers identify what is and isn’t healthy. 

What works for shoppers in the UK?

Here the team shared insight into their work around the ‘Say-Do-Gap’ disconnect - identifying barriers and opportunities for the adoption of healthier, more sustainable diets, and the results of trials with UK supermarkets:

Do promotions on fruit and veg drive long-term behaviour change? Based on research that most people do not eat ‘5 a day’ and 37% say cost is a barrier to eating healthier, Sainsbury’s ran a promotion during two consecutive January’s (2021-22) reducing the price on a range of fruit and veg items to 60p.  During the trial 1.5 million baskets contained a promoted product, with sales increasing by 78% (an extra 4.9 million portions!), category wide sales were up with higher value items performing best.  Unfortunately, the positive results only lasted for three weeks, with no long-term behaviour change.  Perhaps demonstrating that people get bored quickly, which is why schemes like Lidl’s Super 6, offering constant change and variety continue to run.

Should plant-based products be sold alongside meat? – spoiler here, no! While 57% of people suggested moving plant-based products to the meat aisle, would help them eat healthier and more sustainable diets… In reality, a 6-month trial in ASDA resulted in sales of promoted products decreasing by 30%, with no increase in meat or plant-based products elsewhere instore. This could be down to regular shoppers not being able to find what they were looking for, and shopping elsewhere, or differences in price points being too obvious. The results did however, show that merchandising plant-based products in a separate bay within the meat aisle would seem to be the ideal.

While it’s clear that we all need to play a part in advocating health – the results indicate that it’s less about promotion, and more about how we educate consumers to make ‘unconscious’ healthier choices.  It’s true to say that this seminar offered an absolutely fascinating snapshot of such a huge topic with so many variables at play!  So what should we all take away?

1. Nothing is more personal than health – a one size fits all approach doesn’t unlock opportunities to build trust.  Brands need to communicate on a personal level to create relationships

2. Positive positioning and health by stealth are key to changing behaviour – a key strategy for suppliers / retailers to grasp going forward in relation to HFSS and learnings from sugar reduction across soft drinks and cereals

3. It’s a marathon not a sprint – behaviour changes take time.  Small nudges might not make headlines, but they make incremental changes

4. Businesses, government and NGOs need to balance action and reaction – we need to come together to shape products, but in a competitive environment there’s a fine balance between commercial and consumer interest.