nick harrison quote web

Most people know eating fewer calories and being more active leads to weight loss. It’s putting this into practice that is so difficult for the quarter of people in the UK who are obese. My team calculated the UK needs to lose about 343 million kg of fat to bring the average BMI down to 25. That’s the weight of 24,000 London double decker buses. But it would only take a change in consumption or energy expenditure of 50 kcal a day to save a million people from being obese and 1.5 million from being overweight by 2020.

The sugar levy feels like the start of serious government intervention in this space, and it will drive some change. However, when it comes into effect in nearly two years’ time, this levy will only address added sugar in fizzy drinks. While important, this ignores other dietary factors - such as portion size and satfat content - and the benefits of exercise. Many further initiatives would be required to fully address all elements of healthy living and drive the necessary changes in consumer behaviour.

Pushing health as a part of a retail brand proposition is nothing new and is often appreciated by customers, such as the proliferation of checkouts without impulse confectionery. But a more complete approach to health is needed across all aspects of a store’s proposition, including promotions strategies, loyalty programmes, and own-label products. An effective, standout solution would be one that creates synergies across every element of healthy living, making it simple for consumers to change behaviour and track how these changes are driving tangible benefits to their health.

I see the current regulatory push as an opportunity for a major grocer to develop a transformational health proposition, differentiating itself from the competition and building a crucial advantage - benefiting both its customers’ health and its bottom lines in the process.

Food retailers are uniquely positioned to change customer behaviour: they are able to influence how food is labelled; they already track almost all aspects of customers’ shopping habits via loyalty card data; they can also use the power of their own-label products to guide people towards healthier choices; and they have regular direct interactions with most people in the UK.

For example, it would be easy for a retailer to use excess store space to provide simple, free wellness checks where every week customers have their BMI checked, compared with previous weeks, and mapped against shopping habits. Then, providing a simple online or app-based portal, they could help customers compare changes to eating or exercise habits with fundamental changes in their health. This would also create a new avenue for direct marketing and ‘nudges’ helping to guide customers towards healthier offers.

The first retailer to embed health at the heart of its proposition will be able to build a powerful brand that will resonate with an increasingly large segment of the population. Healthier customers will stay loyal - creating a real win-win-win for business, consumers and the NHS.

Nick Harrison is co-leader of the European retail and consumer practice at Oliver Wyman