The role of the food industry and our brands in driving healthier eating habits is undersold and often under fire. But we know that, through both brands and retailers, the wider food industry is able to reach consumers in a meaningful way, helping to mainstream healthier choices. This year at Mars Food we reaffirmed our commitment to providing healthy and affordable products that still absolutely deliver on convenience and most importantly on taste.
Our plan to help consumers understand the role of total meals in their weekly repertoire got the most attention from those looking to spin an angle on a pretty straightforward idea. Our announcement to build on existing successes in reformulation, alongside a commitment to increase whole grains and legumes in our rice products, got a little less attention but will see great products get even better.
But the one that went the most under the radar was our aspiration to identify and then maximise our role in helping families cook and enjoy great meals together more often. Against a backdrop of cooking and baking shows on TV being more popular than ever, a recent study for Uncle Ben’s showed only 32% of parents in the UK said they were cooking with their kids more than once a month and a further 14% of UK parents said they never cook with their kids at all.
Why does it matter? Because we know that when families and friends cook and eat together children are healthier. Planning, preparing and eating a meal together as a family has been linked with positive social and nutritional outcomes - children are happier overall, and older kids have higher wellbeing. Children and young people who eat family meals three or more times per week are more likely to be within a normal weight range and develop healthier eating habits. When parents and their children cook and eat together, kids learn a crucial skill to carry with them throughout their lifetime.
The Kitchen Confidence survey found that, of course, parents already know this - roughly 75% of parents said that teaching kids an important life skill and spending time together as a family are the top two reasons why family meal time is important. But we all know how hard it can be to carve out time for family dinners on a regular basis when all of us live busy lives, with competing family and work commitments.
As manufacturers our job is to bring some fun and inspiration - and a bit of help - to make family cooking and eating easier. At Mars Food we are committed to inspiring family mealtimes, and recent campaigns for Uncle Ben’s Ben’s Beginners and the Dolmio campaign for tech-free meals give a taste of how we are going to bring that to life across our brands.
As an industry we need to take seriously our responsibility to help consumers make healthy choices by providing mainstream products that deliver on health, taste and convenience - but we also have the chance to bring fun and inspiration for great mealtimes that include the life lessons of preparing, planning and cooking together, ultimately leading to better meals.
Craig Sargeant is general manager of Mars Food UK