Sustain takes a keen interest in supermarket policies and activities on health and sustainability. Sustain was particularly active on these issues from 2006 to 2008, and these pages record on key features of this period.
The National Consumer Council's latest ‘rating retailers’ report was published in August, for which Sustain coordinated the research team and data analysis. This work highlighted that health may be the victim of the ‘credit crunch’. It remains to be seen to what extent the new Consumer Focus body will pursue food issues.
In December, Sustain's policy director Kath Dalmeny participated in a "stakeholder consultation" event convened by Tesco's corporate social responsibility (CSR) team, which was also attended by two Sustain members. Tesco's intention was for the meeting to focus on the supermarket's new CSR report - its format, scope and style - but Sustain pointed out that CSR reporting is only as good as the content that it represents, and the practical steps taken to improve performance on health, ethics and sustainability. Sustain pointed out several areas in which it felt Tesco was lagging, not least treatment of suppliers, environmental standards, fish sustainability standards, and opposition to front-of-pack traffic light nutrition labelling.
Sustain policy director Kath Dalmeny has been helping the National Consumer Council to finalise its fourth Rating Retailers for Health survey, due for publication in September.
Rating retailers for health
Thanks to Kath’s usual high-quality work over several years for the National Consumer Council (NCC) on this series of reports, Sustain has once again been funded to manage the ‘Rating Retailers for Health’ project (now in its fourth phase), which measures and compares supermarkets on major health issues, including price promotions, nutritional content of own-brand foods, nutritional labelling and customer advice. Sustain project officer Ida Fabrizio has overseen the survey process and Kath is managing the data collection and report writing. Four stalwart surveyors travelled to eight large Sheffield supermarkets during March, where they found the price war raging. Over 1,000 price promotions were found in each of several supermarkets – unsurprisingly, most of them for the least healthy foods. After sifting through and checking the avalanche of data, Kath is currently preparing a report for the NCC, which will be published later in the year.
Sustain continues to work with a number of organisations to maintain the pressure on the Food Standards Agency and other regulatory bodies to tackle the misuse of sustainability terms in food marketing – specifically ‘seasonal’, ‘local’ and ‘farmers’ market’, of which many examples have been found in leading UK supermarkets. These were used to illustrate the new Sustain report Ethical Hijack.
Airfreight of food
Kath participated in a seminar and consultation with the Food Ethics Council, on what key messages civil society should send to supermarkets about tackling airfreight of food. Further information about airfreight of food is available in our climate change pages.
Kath also worked with Tara Garnett of the Food Climate Research Network and Stephen Reeson of the Food and Drink Federation to plan an industry seminar on what policies are now needed to achieve significant greenhouse gas emission reductions in the food sector. All of the leading supermarkets were represented at the seminar, which was hosted at the Sustainable Development Commission in January, and chaired by Forum for the Future. Senior industry representatives present emphasised the need for financial and other incentives to encourage change, and for stronger leadership from government.
Green, healthy and fair
The Sustainable Development Commission's assessment of the supermarket sector was published in February, setting out a new agenda for supermarkets to meet sustainability goals. Several Sustain staff members and trustees advised on this project.
Shop local first
In November, Sustain's policy director Kath Dalmeny chaired a lively Friends of the Earth ‘Shop Local First’ conference. This was attended by representatives of the independent retail sector, local environmental campaigners, local authorities and others. Sustain's Eat Somerset project officer Alison Belshaw also ran a workshop to discuss how local shops can be encouraged to use more locally produced food.
Responsible retailing at the Co-op
Sustain has been meeting with the Co-op to discuss how their Responsible Retail Advisory Panel (RRAP) might support the development of a sustainability scoring and labelling system. See the separate pages on sustainability labelling for more information.
During this quarter, Kath helped with publication and media coverage of Greening Supermarkets, a survey report from the National Consumer Council comparing the leading supermarkets for how well they engage their customers with sustainability issues – e.g. climate change, sustainable fish, recycling and organic food – and promote environmentally friendly products. Before Kath became Deputy Co-ordinator, she had advised the NCC on the design of the survey and coordinated the research and report, which achieved national media coverage.
- The 2006 NCC survey Greening Supermarkets can be downloaded free of charge in pdf format.
- The 2007 NCC survey Green Grocers can be downloaded free of charge in pdf format.
During May and June, Sustain's deputy coordinator Kath Dalmeny coordinated 16 supermarket surveys in support of this year’s report Greening Supermarkets project, funded by the National Consumer Council. This is the second such report, looking at how well supermarkets help customers to make more environmentally friendly choices through information, promotions and restricting choice to more sustainable products, such as seasonal fruits and vegetables. The report is due for publication in the autumn. We are grateful to our team of stalwart surveyors who undertook this mammoth data-gathering exercise. Kath has analysed the data, submitted the survey report findings and continues to work with the National Consumer Council project officer, Lucy Yates, to finalise the report.
Sustainable Development Commission
Kath has also continued to be involved in the Sustainable Development Commission’s expert panel on supermarkets and sustainability.
Under the auspices of the Food Commission Kath previously managed and helped to design four surveys on behalf of the National Consumer Council (NCC) – three ‘Healthy Supermarkets’ reports 2002-2006 and one ‘Greening Supermarkets’ report in 2006. The NCC has now commissioned Kath, at Sustain, to review and repeat the Greening Supermarkets survey and report in 2007. This will involve managing nine surveyors during April and May and collating and analysing data, much of which will be undertaken by freelance contractors. The review of indicators has also provided an opportunity for Sustain to influence how pressure can be brought to bear on supermarkets to communicate sustainability to consumers and encourage sustainable consumption. Consultation has been undertaken with several key Sustain members.
Kath has also been invited by the Sustainable Development Commission to sit on the SDC’s Expert Advisory Group on Supermarkets. The first meeting set out SDC’s work programme to review what more could be done to encourage supermarkets to achieve sustainability, and by what means. A second meeting is planned for May. Given that Vicki Hird, Bill Vorley and the NCC’s Lucy Yates are also on the group, Sustain and its members are well placed to influence this process.
Media coverage and other promotional work
During the autumn, Kath helped with publication and media coverage of Greening Supermarkets, a survey report from the National Consumer Council comparing the leading supermarkets for how well they engage their customers with sustainability issues – e.g. climate change, sustainable fish, recycling and organic food – and promote environmentally friendly products. Before Kath became Deputy Co-ordinator, she had advised the NCC on the design of the survey and coordinated the research and report, which achieved national media coverage.
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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.