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Retail, Innovation and Manufacturing reporter for the NZ Herald

Supermarkets join forces to fight obesity

Supermarkets are cutting confectionery from checkouts, giving away free fruit, and rolling out a health star rating for products in a bid to combat childhood obesity.

The changes are just some of a number proposed by giants Foodstuffs New Zealand and Progressive Enterprises, with one of the more radical being the reformulation of products.

Both companies have committed to reviewing home-brand products and where necessary, reducing sugar, salt and saturated fat to provide healthier options for consumers.

Last year, the Ministry of Health launched its obesity action plan aimed at preventing and managing obesity in children under 18, which included a focus on the food industry and moves to change food labelling, marketing and advertising.

In response, the two main supermarkets along with Moore Wilson and Bin Inn Retail Group have outlined new health and nutrition targets, and signed a collective pledge to support the plan, with Foodstuffs New Zealand managing director Steve Anderson saying the industry had to play its part.

"As the largest food retailer in New Zealand, we have a role to play in helping support the Government's Childhood Obesity Plan and create healthier communities that will thrive in the long-term," Anderson said.

"We believe that long-term change can be achieved if consumers are supported through a wide range of initiatives that help people make more informed choices, including greater access to healthier alternatives through reformulation."

Retail NZ general manager for public affairs Greg Harford said the chains were keen to work with the Government to encourage healthier communities.

"While we believe that it is the responsibility of individuals to make their own food choices, retailers welcome the chance to work with government agencies and the wider industry, to support initiatives which give consumers more information and education to make more informed choices about their food," Harford said.

"Retailers have already been working in this space for some time. The new pledge is a solid commitment to taking further action."

In addition to product reviews and the health star rating roll-out, Foodstuffs would provide education on diet, nutrition and physical activity through the Food for Thought Charitable Trust and Countdown would continue to provide more than 50,000 pieces of free fresh fruit for children and increase health food sections across its stores.

Countdown has also committed to increasing fruit and vegetable sales over the next year and to having at least one confectionery-free checkout in 95 per cent of its stores by the end of this year.

There has been growing awareness around the issue of childhood obesity with the United Nations releasing a report in January which stated that the world was facing a global epidemic in childhood obesity with the number of overweight children under the age of 5 predicted to jump to as high as 70 million over the next decade.

"To date we have 40 per cent of the brand's 1500 products carrying health star ratings and we are now committed to completing the rollout to the entire portfolio by the end of 2018," Anderson said.

Both chains would review and update targets annually and Harford said that the door was open for other food retailers to join the Retail NZ pledge.

- NZ Herald

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