Heart disease. Strokes. Diabetes. These are just some of the non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and conditions which cause over 70% of deaths worldwide every year (source “Non-Communicable Diseases Factsheet”, World Health Organisation, accessed 23 July 2018.)

But this does not have to be the case. Indeed, although people of all ages and physical conditions are susceptible to suffering NCDs – and these conditions can also be innate – unhealthy lifestyles and a lack of physical activity are primary risk factors. A few small changes can therefore make a great difference.

These changes, however, need to happen now, before the course which we have set becomes irreversible. Obesity rates have doubled between 1980 and 2008, with as many as 70% of adults in EU Member States considered overweight, and between 10-30% of adults obese. Even more alarmingly, 1 out of every 3 European 11-year-olds falls into one of these categories (source “Obesity: data and statistics”, World Health Organisation, accessed 23 July 2018.)

Challenges such as these will only be solved through concerted multi-stakeholder actions. At Sonae MC, we feel a strong sense of responsibility to play our part. And as the food retail market leader in Portugal, operating almost 1,000 stores, we are in an undeniable position to affect change.

And we truly believe that this change is possible.

This belief is reflected in our work on healthy lifestyles, which can be broken down into three distinct but interlinked themes: responding to consumer demands and encouraging healthier choices, being conscious of our responsibilities, and helping to raise awareness and contribute to large-scale societal change. But how do these themes become reality?

Offering Healthier Options

First and foremost, we know that our the biggest changemakers of all are our consumers. We are witnessing a contrasting change in consumer behaviour – people want products which fuel healthy lifestyles. For us, responding to and encouraging this shift is not just a question of business sense, but also part of our obligation to democratise access to healthy options. We are thus committed to broadening the range of healthy products and services we have on offer, through innumerous initiatives.

Key amongst our actions is the careful reformulation of food products, to reduce the amount of salt, saturated fat, trans fatty acids, sugar, additives, preservatives, and other artificial ingredients, as well as to increase the quantities of fibre, fruit and micronutrients. Our new line of reformulated products includes yoghurts, salads, dried fruits, and dehydrated fruits and vegetables.

Alongside this, we have also recently invested in “Bio & Saudável” (Organic & Healthy) standalone areas in our stores, as well as in an organic and healthy products’ supermarket, Go Natural. Complementarily, we offer nutritional counselling at our specialized stores Well’s.

Keeping Consumers Informed  

The second theme involves a simple acknowledgment of our influence as a major retailer in which more than 350,000 clients shop every day. This means that we are committed to engaging in responsible marketing, keeping consumers well-informed about the products they are purchasing and empowering them to make healthy choices.

We therefore use a traffic-light coloured based system on our private label products, highlighting the fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt content of products – a straightforward measure that facilitates health conscious decisions for every shopper. We also disseminate nutritional information on a wider scale, notably by providing brochures related to fresh products, flyers with health tips, and a magazine with recipe suggestions.


Raising Awareness and Contributing to Large-Scale Societal Change

However, within our own stores, we can only do so much. This is why the third aspect of our engagement takes us out of the supermarket and into the school. Knowing how important it is to instil good habits from an early age, we have built an educational programme for primary schools, which teaches children about healthy and balanced diets, and gives them food for thought to grow into conscious consumers. Our second edition of “Escola Missão Continente”, in 2017/2018, had 139 primary schools signed up, involving more than 10,000 pupils and 480 teachers.

We have also developed several partnerships with organisations aiming to actively address nutritional deficiencies of vulnerable populations. For instance, we have partnered with the Portuguese Cardiology Foundation and the Portuguese Diabetic Association to introduce special labelling and promoting products with positive impacts on these conditions.

It is not too late to reverse the current trend of increasing obesity, and at Sonae, these actions give an insight on how we are contributing to developing real solutions. We are taking these actions today because tomorrow may be too late. We look forward to ever-broader cooperation across the stakeholder landscape in bringing about long-lasting societal change. Retailers have a crucial role to play in this dynamic, and Sonae MC is ready and willing. We look forward to exploring this topic and more in our home country Portugal at The Consumer Goods Forum’s Sustainable Retail Summit this October. 

This blog post was written and contributed by

Luís Moutinho
Chief Executive Officer