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Four in five of the world’s biggest food manufacturers are over-reliant on sales of unhealthy food. These are the findings of a new analysis published by World Action on Salt, Sugar & Health (WASSH), supported by responsible investment NGO ShareAction. It comes despite each of these manufacturers claiming to be active in improving the healthiness of their products.

Our methodology assessed more than 2,000 food and drink items produced and sold by five companies – Kellogg’s, Kraft Heinz, Nestlé, Unilever and Danone – in three of their biggest markets: Australia, France, and Mexico. The research found the majority of these products would be classified as ‘unhealthy’. Danone was the only exception, with only 35% of its portfolio deemed unhealthy.

The country with the highest proportion of unhealthy products made by these five manufacturers was Australia (65%), followed closely behind by France (63%) and Mexico (60%). Danone was the only manufacturer with a greater share of healthier products available in each of the three countries. The remaining four manufacturers performed poorly across all three markets. More than half of their surveyed food and drink portfolio was below a standard definition of ‘healthy’.

WASSH and ShareAction are now calling for all global food manufacturers to disclose what proportion of their sales can be classed as ‘healthier’ against government endorsed models and set meaningful targets to increase these figures, and improve access and availability to healthier food.

Food businesses around the world need to acknowledge the role they play in our health. Our supermarket shelves and shopping baskets are now dominated by highly processed foods, which are more often than not high in salt, sugar and saturated fat. Excessive and prolonged consumption of these foods is leading us to suffer more from obesity, type 2 diabetes, raised blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

We can’t expect people to simply choose healthier options when almost two-thirds of the food produced by big manufacturers is unhealthy. We need companies to flip this unfavourable ratio on its head so the majority of the products they produce nourish us and promote health, not the other way around.

Without doubt, improving the nutritional content of food and drink by reformulating recipes to contain less salt, sugar and saturated fat is the most important strategy for any company to improve public health. Unfortunately, without government enforcement, we have to rely on industry’s good will. Some companies are rising to the challenge, such as Danone, which has recently committed to further improving the nutritional profile of its UK and Ireland portfolio.

At a time when investors are increasingly concerned about exposure to regulatory risk if companies fail to reduce their reliance on unhealthy products, we now need to see more manufacturers like Premier Foods, AG Barr and Britvic. These companies are each mitigating risk by setting voluntary targets to help increase the longer-term sales of healthy foods.

Currently these companies are the exception, not the rule. This why we need to see government leadership across the sector, with strict measures to include mandatory targets for reformulation.