In 2019, members of The Consumer Goods Forum issued a clear call to action for retailers and manufacturers in the UK to come together to help tackle the UK’s growing range of public health issues on both diet and non-diet related issues. The Collaboration for Healthier Lives UK initiative was then born, with members agreeing on a series of in-store interventions across the London boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark, which are home to 600,000 residents and over 200 grocery stores.

Under the leadership of the CEOs from Danone and Tesco, CHL UK became known as a unique purpose-driven collaboration that brings together a coalition of members from The Consumer Goods Forum alongside key local stakeholders – including public health authorities, academics, local actors and government figures – to drive behavioural change and positively impact consumer health in the region. And, with the support of the University of Oxford, who have been helping us to crunch the numbers, we’ve seen some clear successes. Of course, we have also learned that not everything works!

And, that’s what yesterday was about for me, as more than 30 experts joined a virtual meeting as part of the phase II planning discussion for our Collaboration for Healthier Lives UK initiative. And, we know our employees and consumers have been impacted by COVID and putting their health and safety first has been paramount; however, as we see our way through this pandemic, it’s important not to forget that there are several health and wellbeing challenges in the UK that our industry can play a key role in overcoming. Our members understand this and are keen to play their part and ensure phase II of CHL UK is a success.

During yesterday’s meeting, we were joined by representatives from Colgate-Palmolive, Danone, GSK Consumer Healthcare, Groupe Bel, Johnson & Johnson, McCain, M&S, PepsiCo, Premier Foods, P&G, Sainsbury, Samsworth Brothers, Superdrug, Tesco, Waitrose, University of Oxford, Impact on Urban Health and BCG. Discussions surrounded the learnings and successes of phase I, plans for scaling up to go nationwide and discussions on ensuring healthier diets are also sustainable diets. There was also a focused discussion on how we ensure personal care and hygiene product manufacturers have a key role to play in supporting healthier behaviours, especially when looking at topics like smoking cessation, cleaning your teeth and hand washing.

One of the key takeaways from the meeting, and from phase I of CHL UK, was that we tested and learned together for a whole year, but it’s now time to put our energy into what works. We know from the data, thanks to the great work from Susan Jebb and the Oxford University team, that product positioning, for example, works as a way to nudge healthier behaviours, but we accept it can be difficult commercially, and so we need to find the balance. We agree it’s better to do this before regulation is imposed. We also learned that swaps work and we have learned how to increase sales, though reducing purchases of unhealthy items has proven harder. We also know that promotions work, but we need an answer to their long-term sustainability.

However, on the flipside, we know labelling, education and in-aisle positioning do not work on their own so we need to apply energy where we can have the biggest impact.

So, what’s next for CHL UK? In the meeting, we discussed the impact of COP26 and the UN Food Systems Summit and the drive being provided by the Prime Minister and Public Health England; we looked at the important intersection between healthier diets and more sustainable diets; and we looked at how we can scale-up our actions to implement interventions nationwide. There’s a lot of planning and further discussions needed, but the energy on the call was high and there is a lot of commitment, which is always highly motivating for us at the CGF. Of course, we can’t rest on our laurels: we need to move fast and be bold, and be more ambitious with our trials.

The meeting also welcomed Jason Tarry, the UK & Ireland CEO at Tesco. Jason is providing the necessary CEO leadership to help drive this forward. Jason began by saying the Collaboration for Healthier Lives UK initiative is a great example of our industry’s ongoing commitment to find new and innovative ways to help customers make healthier food choices and drive overall healthier behaviour change. He said he is very proud of the successes of the UK team so far and how he is now very much looking forward to seeing what can be achieved in year two. He also talked about Tesco’s experience in phase 1 of the initiative, noting that some of the successful trials have now been rolled out to stores across the country.

Jason also spoke about some of Tesco’s commitments – like those on increasing sales of healthy products, as a proportion of total sales, to 65% by 2025 and increasing sales of plant-based meat alternatives by 300% by 2025 – recognising the role CHL UK has in supporting these ambitions. He said it is our duty to society, and we have to keep customer front-of-mind. He said the end goal must be to make a positive difference at scale.

Jason also said that whilst COVID-19 meant that we had to pause the initiative during 2020, it has also given the team, and him personally, more impetus and determination to go further and to make an even bigger impact on the health of our customers in year two. Tesco’s support for CHL is an important part of our wider plans to help its customers eat more healthily and lead a healthier life.

Jason was followed by James Pearson, the UK & Ireland Managing Director at Danone, who is also helping to lead the UK initiative. James said, now, more than ever, in this COVID environment we to need come together to take action, and to do so at scale, because we know it’s the right thing to do, it’s what our stakeholders want from us and it’s what the circumstances demand.  He noted that the health challenges are clear and that a bigger impact was needed. He said, if the ‘why’ we need to act is clear, the CHL framework provides the ‘how’.    We have defined and aligned on a clear and simple framework with the support of our academic and charitable partners Oxford University and Impact on Urban Health. And, he said, this helps us frame our actions, evaluate outcomes – and push ourselves and others towards future success. 

James then advised fellow manufacturers to integrate CHL into their business planning and to make it sustainable and central to their businesses. He also said he knows it needs to make commercial sense, but younger employees and consumers are now demanding action, so it’s time to deliver. On the Danone side, he said, we’ve been active on several fronts and we’ve had some successes, for example, reformulation to reduce sugar levels by 20% in our yogurt and plant-based products.

James concluded by saying, now is the time for industry to lean in and co-create solutions that meet the expectations of our stakeholders and also ourselves. Industry can be a great force for good – let’s step forward and show that. We are asking for your leadership and support for your teams to cut through the complexity and drive action to do just this. 

I also want to thank Jeni Blackett and Richard Hall our CHL UK Co-Chairs at Tesco and Danone for helping to energise the phase II discussions and I am very much looking forward to working with them, and with all the CHL UK members and partners, to implement phase II. We must continue learning and help empower people to adopt healthier diets and lifestyles. We were the first to try this, and we are excited about where we are heading, so watch this space!

This blog was written and contributed by:

Sharon Bligh
Healthier Lives Director
The Consumer Goods Forum

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