nutrition label

The government has been urged to make good on its commitment to bring in mandatory reporting on sales of unhealthy and healthier food for large food businesses.

The Food Foundation’s annual report – which this year compares the progress of supermarkets and out-of-home operators – claims to show an “urgent need for a legally enforced framework of health and sustainability targets” if government is to meet its calorie reduction and climate commitments.

A system of mandatory reporting for all large UK food businesses, including sales of fruit & veg and products high in fat, sugar or salt, was proposed by Henry Dimbleby in his government commissioned National Food Strategy report over a year ago.

The government’s white paper response in June this year approved the recommendation for mandatory reporting of sales of unhealthy and healthier food but was accused by critics including The Food Foundation of lacking detail on how this would be implemented.

In the run-up to the publication of the white paper, 16 food major businesses also signed a joint statement calling for mandatory sales-based reporting, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s Aldi, Lidl, Co-op and Waitrose.

The government must now “make good on the commitments made in the food strategy white paper to implement mandatory reporting across a range of health and sustainability metrics for large businesses”, according to The Food Foundation.

Read more: National Food Strategy: government has failed us with its lack of commitment on health

The campaigning charity’s report says the most proactive retailers are already working on targets and metrics to assess their progress towards improving customers’ diets and health – but slams the out-of-home sector for making “little or no effort in this direction”.

The average calorie content of restaurant and takeaway food is double that of food sold by supermarkets, according to its report, called The State of the Nation’s Food Industry.

The foundation praised Tesco and Lidl for “forward-thinking efforts to tackle these issues”. But it said supermarkets needed to give more support to low-income families, with only Sainsbury’s and Iceland currently promoting the government’s Healthy Start voucher scheme, according to the report.

It said UK food businesses were not addressing an imbalance in advertising between unhealthy and healthy food, with fruit & veg promotion receiving 1% of marketing spend.

And it said a gap between the cost of healthy and unhealthy food was widening in the pandemic, with healthy foods three times more expensive per calorie. In 2021-22, the price of healthy food increased at twice the rate of less healthy foods (5.1% vs 2.5%), according to the report, based on analysis of the performance of 27 major UK supermarkets and out-of-home chains.

“The need for food businesses to address the twin issues of diet-related ill health and the climate crisis is more urgent than ever,” said Food Foundation senior business and investor engagement manager Rebecca Tobi.

“If we are to meet government’s net zero commitments on climate change and reverse the downward trajectory of the nation’s health, it is imperative that food businesses recognise their responsibility.

“The retail sector is currently ahead when it comes to health and sustainability commitments – it’s time for caterers, restaurant chains and fast food outlets do the same.”