For members and employees of the Food and Drink Federation, 2013 is a very special year. Our centenary is an opportunity to take stock and celebrate all the food and drink industry has delivered for consumers, the economy and society over the past 100 years.

Britain began the 20th century beset by poverty, malnutrition and disease. Innovations in food processing, such as the enrichment of margarines with vitamins A and D in the 1920s and the fortification of white flour in the 1930s, helped drive real improvements in general health.

Advancements in food science in post-war Britain resulted in the development of processing techniques to ensure safety, prolong shelf life, improve palatability and enhance nutritional value in products. New technologies and processes such as freezing, chilling, pasteurisation and canning became available at a time of great social change in Britain.

” We have to work with government to tackle public health issues”

As well as celebrating our proud history, the FDF is looking to the future through our shared vision to work with government to grow our sector by 20% by 2020. Our sector is a vital contributor to the UK’s restored prosperity, but we will not pursue growth at any cost.

This week, we published Delivering Healthy Growth - a new report showcasing our members’ contributions to improved public health through recipe reformulation, the development of healthier choices, workplace wellbeing initiatives and packaging innovations, for example.

Speaking alongside public health minister Anna Soubry at the launch, Richard Evans, president of PepsiCo UK and Ireland and newly appointed Chair of the FDF’s Health and Wellbeing Steering Group, highlighted the importance of health and wellbeing to our industry. He was clear that we not only have a responsibility to help to rebalance the economy and deliver increased rates of sustainable growth but that we have to continue to work with government and others to tackle the big public health issues.

Delivering Healthy Growth showcases the voluntary initiatives undertaken by businesses in our sector to improve the health of consumers, employees and people in the community. This work is making a difference. Alongside the minister’s announcement this week of a further eight signatories to the Responsibility Deal’s calorie reduction pledge, the FDF was able to track the progress of the industry’s longer-term work to cut salt. Over the past five years, there has been a 10% reduction in salt levels in members’ products compared with 2008.

Looking ahead, our sector will continue to engage with the UK government constructively to tackle key societal challenges. Whether it be cutting water or fuel usage, boosting nutrients in the nation’s diet or slashing salt or calorie intakes, the FDF and our members will continue to work with stakeholders towards these shared goals.

Equally, where further progress becomes more difficult to achieve, as with salt reduction, the FDF will strive to broaden engagement to help more companies across the food chain play a positive role in this work.

Melanie Leech is director general of the FDF