Over the period 2004 to 2009, Sustain and the Food Commission worked with the National Consumer Council to develop and conduct national supermarket surveys, and to develop policy recommendations, on how well the major supermarkets help their customers to buy healthier and more sustainable food.
The surveys rated the UK's leading supermarkets against each other, showing big differences between the supermarkets in terms of their relative progress on health and sustainability issues. This page shows details of a Consumer Focus (formerly National Consumer Council) report that explores how supermarkets could set corporate targets to promote ethical and sustainable consumption (title at the top of the page, link to download the report at the bottom of the page). Links to the other reports are also included below.
The rating retailers surveys and policy reports demonstrate how much effort public interest groups have put in over the years, to encourage, cajole or sometimes force supermarkets to improve their products and practices. Some supermarkets have responded, and some ground has been gained. Witnessing this glacially slow progress, Sustain remains opposed to voluntary approaches. Supermarkets operate in a highly competitive market and 'selling more' remains the dominant driver - to the detriment of people's waistlines and the environment. In this situation, it is difficult to see how we can shop our way out of serious problems caused by over-consumption, alongside weak regulation, lame educational initiatives, misleading food labelling, and a sprinkling of greener products sold at a premium.
(Note: The National Consumer Council was re-named as Consumer Focus)
National Consumer Council 'rating retailers' surveys on health
- 2008: Cut-price, what cost? [more information]
- 2006: Short changed on health? [more information]
- 2005: Healthy competition? [more information]
- 2004: Rating retailers for health [more information]
National Consumer Council 'rating retailers' surveys on food sustainability
- 2009: Behind the scenes at retailers: Recommendations for corporate targets on green issues [more information]
- 2009: Green to the Core? [more information]
- 2007: Green grocers? [more information]
- 2006: Greening supermarkets [more information]
- Which also led to the 2007 NCC report Season's promise, challenging the supermarket sector to buy and promote more seasonal food [more information]
Original research that informed the supermarket sustainability reports
- 2005: Greening supermarkets: Do supermarkets help consumers buy sustainable food? [more information]
- 2007: How can food labelling contribute to a healthy and sustainable food system? [more information]
Other useful links on supermarkets and sustainable food include:
- An ambitious project called Race to the Top, sponsored by Defra, to provide an assessment of supermarket performance against independently audited sustainability indicators. Race to the Top ended prematurely in 2004 when several supermarkets pulled out (download 320kb PDF final report).
- The recent Competition Commission enquiry into trading practices within the supermarket sector;
- The Sustainable Development Commission's 2008 review of supermarket ethics and sustainability, with the report Green, Healthy and Fair.
- Many of Sustain’s members have a range of concerns about supermarkets. See Tescopoly for more details.
Sustain annual conference - 8 December
Behind the scenes at retailers: Recommendations for corporate targets on green issues
7pp - 2009 | 310Kb
Published 1 Oct 2009
Supermarkets, health and sustainability: Sustain has worked in particular with the Greening Supermarkets, Healthier Supermarkets and Race to the Top initiatives to stimulate changes in supermarket policies and practices.