As the war of words over sugar and obesity continues (sometimes across the pages of The Grocer), it suddenly seems anybody and everybody has an opinion on what is making us fat, and what we should do about it.
Unsurprising, then, that supermarkets are making their own moves in the Great Obesity Debate. Lidl announced it was ditching sweets from its checkout queues earlier this month. And now Tesco is embarking upon a major new educational campaign to teach kids about food.
The Eat Happy Project will cost £15m in its first year and kicks off with ‘Farm to Fork’, an initiative that will see up to one million schoolchildren taken to visit farms and suppliers to learn about where food comes from and how it is made. For those schools that can’t do field trips, Tesco will offer virtual visits via Google’s ‘Connected Classrooms’ technology.
Why is Tesco doing this? Firstly, because of concerns around diet, according to Tesco UK MD Chris Bush: “We are now facing an overwhelming body of evidence which points clearly to the long-term health and social costs of our relationship with food.”
Secondly, Tesco cites research showing there is a huge gap in children’s knowledge of food. “Studies identified that almost a third of primary school pupils believe that cheese comes from plants, and almost one in five under 11s thought that chicken was the main ingredient in fish fingers,” says Bush.
Tesco’s stated aims are certainly ambitious: Bush says the work “will take a generation” but it will help “break habits formed over several generations and create a healthier future”.
Of course, it’s great PR for Tesco, which has a track record in this type of CSR, having run the Computers for Schools scheme since 1992. Along with its 10-point plan to make soft drinks healthier, announced in November, this positions it nicely ahead of the government’s launch of a new strategy to fight childhood obesity, expected in the Spring.
It’s also hard to fault the principle of teaching kids more about the supply chain; at a time when grown-ups publish books called ‘Farmageddon’ and argue bitterly over the techniques of modern farming, Farm to Fork seems suitably topical.
Granted, some may find it a bit rich that Tesco – which has copped plenty of flak for its treatment of suppliers in its time – is now setting itself up as an educator on food supply. But the Eat Happy Project – and the research cited by Tesco – throws up even more searching questions for the government. What does it say about the education system in the UK that the door has opened for the private sector to start teaching our kids about food?