EQ investors and Nest pension fund agree that health is emerging as an investment risk
Kid in a supermarket shopping healthy food
Photo as seen on ShareAction website

EQ Investors and Nest, the pension fund, have joined ShareAction’s call on Tesco to disclose the proportion of its sales made up by healthy food and drink products. The question has been submitted to Tesco on the day of its Annual General Meeting. The organisations have urged the UK supermarket to set ambitious targets to increase the sale of healthy food and drink products over time.

ShareAction, a responsible investment charity based in London, is leading the ongoing Healthy Markets’ campaign. The move is backed by investors with $1 trillion.

The charity is asking supermarkets to define and publish comprehensive nutrition and health strategies to drive healthier food and drink consumption.

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Louisiana Salge, an impact specialist at EQ Investors, explained: “Understanding the actions food retailers are taking to improve the nation’s diets is vital for investors to assess the associated risks and opportunities in this area.” EQ Investors is also a member of ShareAction’s Healthy Campaign.

The call on Tesco seeks to see the supermarket embrace a similar commitment made by other major UK supermarkets including Sainsbury’s and M&S.

Mais Callan, senior responsible investment manager at Nest, said there’s a growing demand from governments to tackle the issue of obesity and a consumer trend towards healthier products. 

“Sugar taxes, like the Soft Drinks Industry Levy in the UK, are being implemented around the world and it’s likely other measures will follow,” explained Callan.

For Callan, evidence from the Covid-19 pandemic is also showing that people with obesity-linked conditions are more likely to suffer serious complications. “Health is emerging as a key investment risk,” she said.

Callan pointed out that supporting ShareAction’s question builds on the belief that companies like Tesco have an important role to play in promoting a healthier product range. “We believe companies that get ahead of the curve on this issue will have a better chance of long-term success.”

Access to nutrition

The call on Tesco follows the publication of a review of UK supermarkets’ plans to improve the nation’s diets earlier this year. 

Call on Tesco to disclose sales of healthy products
Photo as seen on ShareAction website

The report, released by Access to Nutrition, found significant gaps in their public commitments and actions to help people eat balanced diets and tackle childhood obesity. 

Access to Nutrition has created the Global Access to Nutrition Index (ATNI), a groundbreaking initiative that evaluates the world’s largest food and drink manufacturers’ policies and performance related to obesity and undernutrition, the world’s most pressing nutrition challenges. 

Tesco came third with information being found on only 30% of indicators across topics such as product formulation, responsible marketing, affordability, clear labelling and corporate governance.

Childhood obesity

The ongoing pandemic has highlighted the critical importance of tackling childhood obesity and supporting public health. 

Obesity has been pinned as an underlying health condition increasing the severity of Covid-19 cases. 

During the peak of the crisis, 73% of UK patients in ICU were overweight or obese, compared to 63% in the general population.

For Louisa Hodge, engagement manager at ShareAction, retailers have worked really hard to guarantee our food supply during the ongoing health crisis, and their role in shaping people’s diets and health has never been more apparent. 

“As the largest food retailer, Tesco has a critical role to play in rebuilding a healthier community in the UK post-Covid-19 by supporting improvements to people’s diets and tackling childhood obesity,” she said. 

Responsible investment

Sarah Hickey, programme director for childhood obesity at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity (GSTC), said many families struggle to access healthy, affordable food and that Covid-19 has deepened existing inequalities in children’s diets. 

“Commercial organisations – including food retailers – play a huge role in shaping what young people eat and improving children’s access to nutritious food,” said Hickey. “We need supermarkets to be transparent about the actions they’re taking in this area, to drive further positive change that gives all young people access to the food they need to thrive.”

Date published: 29 June 2020

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