fiona dawson quote web

The debate on how to tackle obesity has seen sharpening fault lines in recent years. Reports by public health bodies and studies by leading academics published during the past few weeks show obesity rates at an all-time high, and predict they will rise even further over the next decade.

Last month, George Osborne did what some considered unthinkable by imposing a tax on sugary drinks as the government looks for ways to drive change in consumer behaviour and choice. A more wide-ranging strategy is expected to be announced later this year with reformulation, advertising changes, and other combinations of measures likely to be floated.

Many food retailers and manufacturers, like Mars, recognise the important role that the food industry has to play in working with stakeholders to help reduce obesity. We have already made important strides in improving our products to reduce sodium and trans fat and ensuring our products are marketed responsibly. Through involvement in initiatives like the Responsibility Deal and Change 4 Life, the industry has responded in a meaningful way, but it’s time to be even more vocal about how we are prepared to help.

At Mars Food, we are committed not just to significant reformulation across our portfolio, but also to helping consumers choose products they can easily incorporate into everyday meals and special occasions. It isn’t about preaching to our consumers, but rather ensuring our products deliver great taste and nutrition as well as inspiration for dinnertime staples.

Over the next five years, we’ll improve the nutritional content of our products but also look to inspire people to cook and eat healthy meals together. Based on nutrition guidelines built around WHO recommendations, we’ll reduce sodium across our portfolio by an average of 20% by 2021, and reduce added sugar in some of our sauces and light meals by 2018. We’ll also increase the number of products in our portfolio that include whole grains and legumes, and include at least one serving of vegetables in all tomato jar products.

With the abundance of nutrition information available, it can be difficult to know which advice to follow. So we’ll make it easier for people to understand which of our foods are meant to be eaten occasionally, as opposed to every day, through guidance on our product labels and on our website. We’ll also try to inspire consumers to cook and eat together through on-pack and online recipes that include more vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, and promote the benefits of shared meals.

Through these initiatives and others, we can make our products more relevant and accessible to our consumers, and find unique ways to partner with retailers on their own health and wellbeing initiatives.

Obesity is a complex problem that industry cannot solve alone. But we must still be willing to recognise the important role we can play and acknowledge to government and other stakeholders that, as an industry, we are listening and responding.

Fiona Dawson is global president of Mars Food, Drinks, and Multisales