Young Campaigners Call Time On Global Food Companies

Sir Patrick Vallance backs young people’s call to ‘Fuel Us, Don’t Fool Us’

New research* by youth activist charity Bite Back reveals:

  • 7 of the top 10 global food manufacturers make more than two thirds (68%) of their food and drink sales in the UK from unhealthy products (high in fat, sugar or salt).**
  • These businesses were together responsible for over 90% of UK 2022 online advertising spending by manufacturers for chocolate, crisps, biscuits and ice cream — all product categories associated with children's excess sugar and calorie intake.
  • Ferrero (100%), Mondelez (98%), Unilever (84%) and Kellogg (77%) have the highest proportions of sales from unhealthy products — Nutella, Kinder, and Crunchy Nut are among their biggest selling brands.
  • Young campaigners, backed by Sir Patrick Vallance, call on food companies to stop using tactics like cartoon characters to target children with unhealthy foods. 

Young campaigners hoping to ‘flip the script’ on the UK’s food system are today naming and shaming some of the top food companies operating in the UK whose product ranges are dominated by food and drink high in fat, sugar or salt (HFSS). Ferrero and Mondelez have the unhealthiest portfolio with an estimated 100% and 98% of their sales coming from unhealthy products such as Kinder Surprise and Freddo bars.

New research, released by charity Bite Back and carried out by the University of Oxford, reveals that 7 in 10 of the top global food giants make at least two thirds (68%) of their packaged food and drink sales in the UK from unhealthy products. Bite Back’s #FuelUsDontFoolUs campaign is being launched at a time when nearly one in three children are at risk of a future of food-related illness.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK government’s former chief scientific adviser said: "The young people at the heart of Bite Back have rightly called time on an industry that is maximising profit over their health. We now need to listen to them and put their voices and their interests at the heart of political and business decision-making.

"The evidence set out in this report highlights the need for urgent action — from the food industry itself and from the Government to ensure businesses don’t shirk their responsibilities and continue to fail future generations of children," he explained.

Entitled Fuel Us, Don’t Fool Us: Are food giants rigging the system against child health?, the Oxford University study for Bite Back — a youth activist movement co-founded by chef Jamie Oliver — analysed 241 packaged food and drink brands and over 5,000 products and concluded that the business models of some of the biggest, most successful global food companies operating in the UK are reliant on selling food and drinks that harm children’s health.

Food manufacturers in the UK spent £55 million in 2022 on online adverts for food and drink products from four food categories that are associated with children’s excess sugar and calorie intake: chocolate (£40,948,000), crisps (£9,300,538), biscuits (£2,869,605) and ice cream (£1,971,071). Bite Back’s research reveals that 7 of the top 10 food businesses were behind £50 million (91%) of this ad spend.

Bite Back campaigner Alice, aged 18, said: “Our report exposes just how deliberate and effective the tactics of these food giants are in manufacturing a food environment rigged against our health. We have had enough of child health being sacrificed in the pursuit of profits. There is no longer any excuse to delay government and corporate action to protect it,” she added.

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Bite Back have written to the top 10 global food manufacturing companies, calling on them to stop misleading young people with marketing tactics, including advertising and packaging that deliberately targets children and young people, and health claims that hide the unhealthy aspects of their products. Currently, packaging is excluded from existing UK regulations designed to protect children from junk food marketing.

James Toop, Bite Back CEO, said: “Our research shows that while food companies say they are part of the solution, in reality their business model is based on successfully promoting unhealthy food to children. 

“We are sleepwalking into a preventable health crisis. Both government and businesses need to take action so that manufacturers sell more healthy food and stop the advertising and misleading tactics that target young people,” he explained.

Researchers at the University of Oxford say the report’s findings call for an urgent redress of the UK’s food system. 

"These findings are consistent with other research that has shown the reliance that leading food and drink companies have on sales of unhealthy products,” said researcher Dr Lauren Bandy, of the University of Oxford.

“These businesses dominate the market and while many claim they are making progress to reformulate and make their products healthier, we need stronger commitments and a greater rate of change if we are to see a meaningful reduction in diet-related disease, both in the UK and globally,” she added.

The Fuel Us, Don’t Fool Us: Are food giants rigging the system against child health? report will be launched at an event at the Science Gallery in London (Thursday 22 February 2024, 11:30 am - 13:00 pm).

*Research conducted by the University of Oxford using 2022 Euromonitor data on packaged food and drink sales. Exclusions apply.

**Advertising spend is estimated based on Nielsen Ad Intel costing methodologies.

For full details read the full report and methodology.

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