Major food and beverage companies “remove 6.4 trillion calories from US marketplace”

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 29th January 2014
Companies in the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation have reduced calories sold in the US

Sixteen leading food and beverage companies in the US sold 6.4 trillion fewer calories in the US in 2012 than they did in 2007, according to the findings of a report funded by health organisation the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is the United States’ largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care.  It is named after the man who built the Johnson & Johnson health products maker and was founded out of his estate on his death in 1968.

The companies, acting together as part of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF), pledged to remove 1 trillion calories from the marketplace by 2012, and 1.5 trillion by 2015. The evaluation found that, thus far, the companies have exceeded their 2015 pledge by more than 400 per cent.

The participating companies sold 60.4 trillion calories in 2007, the year defined as the baseline measurement for the pledge. In 2012, they sold 54 trillion calories. This 6.4 trillion calorie decline translates into a reduction of 78 calories per person in the US per day, according to RWJF.

“It’s extremely encouraging to hear that these leading companies appear to have substantially exceeded their calorie-reduction pledge,” said James S. Marks, MD, Senior Vice President and Director of the Health Group at RWJF. “They must sustain that reduction, as they’ve pledged to do, and other food companies should follow their lead to give Americans the lower-calorie foods and beverages they want,” he said.

History of HWCF

In October 2009, more than 40 of the largest retailers in the US, not-for-profit organisations, food and beverage manufacturers and trade associations launched HWCF, with the goal of helping to reduce obesity, especially childhood obesity, by 2015. Sixteen companies participated in the calorie-reduction pledge, announced in May 2010 as one pillar of the work of HWCF.

The pledge was part of an agreement between HWCF and the Partnership for a Healthier America, an independent, non-partisan organisation dedicated to advancing the goals of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative by working with the private sector to end childhood obesity. Australian Food News reported in February 2010 that the “Let’s Move” campaign had gained support from HWCF and America’s National Restaurant Association.

Together the 16 companies produced 36 per cent of the calories from all packaged foods and beverages, in items such as cereals, snacks, canned soups and bottled beverages, sold in the US in 2007. In 2010 the companies noted that, in order to meet the pledge, they would likely develop new lower-calorie options, change existing products so that they had fewer calories, and change portion sizes to introduce more lower-calorie packaging.

Study method

In order to evaluate the impact of the pledge, researchers at the University of North Carolina and Chapel Hill (UNC) combined data on foods and beverages sold by participating companies with nutritional information for those products. They then determined which individual products were included as part of the pledge and tracked sales of those products over time. All data used were publicly or commercially available. The full, peer-reviewed study is expected to be published later in 2014.

“The companies whose sales we analysed have a big influence over the foods and beverages almost every American eats and drinks every day,” said Barry Popkin, PhD, WR Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor in the School of Public Health at UNC and leader of the evaluation team. “The evaluation system we’ve created will enable us to determine how changes to what’s sold influences what people consume,” he said.

Lower-calorie products positively affect companies’ bottom line

Other research from RWJF found in 2011 that between 2007 and 2011, ‘better-for-you’, lower-calorie foods and beverages also drove financial performance for many of these same companies. Companies with a higher percentage of their sales coming from such products recorded stronger sales growth, higher operating profits, superior shareholder returns, and better company reputations.

“Making the shift from traditional items to lower-calorie ones is not just the right thing for customers, it’s the right thing for these companies’ bottom lines,” said C. Tracy Orleans, PhD, and Senior Scientist at RWJF. “The next big question is how these changes to what’s available on store shelves actually impact the health of children and families,” she said.

The 16 companies committed to the HWCF calorie-reduction pledge include:

  • Bumble Bee Foods, LLC

  • Campbell Soup Company

  • ConAgra Foods (includes Ralston Foods)

  • General Mills, Inc.

  • Hillshire Brands (previously Sara Lee Corporation)

  • Kellogg Company

  • Kraft Foods Group/Mondelez

  • Mars, Incorporated

  • McCormick & Company, Inc.

  • Nestlé USA

  • PepsiCo, Inc.

  • Post Foods

  • The Coca-Cola Company

  • The Hershey Company

  • The J.M. Smucker Company

  • Unilever