And the honours go to….

From harnessing social norms to healthy vending, the Health & Vitality Honours showcase ideas that need spreading. Amy Fetzer reports from this year’s awards ceremony.

Did you know that just telling your customers that most people have vegetables with their meal will get more of them ordering greens? Or that if you ditch high-calorie junk food to offer students healthy, local and fair trade vending options, that sales will increase?

These were some of the innovative initiatives that beat fierce competition to bag an award at the Footprint 2016 Health & Vitality Honours in January. The event, now in its fourth year, drives the healthy eating agenda in foodservice by celebrating and showcasing initiatives that enable customers to make healthier choices while increasing commercial opportunities.

Harnessing our influence

Poor diet is a major cause of ill health in the UK and Ireland. About 62%
of adults are overweight or obese and it feels like every week brings more research linking excess weight and poor diet choices to “lifestyle diseases” such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. With one in six meals eaten outside the home, foodservice firms must take responsibility for helping customers make healthier choices.

“If we want people to change what they eat, we really need the foodservice sector to be setting an example,” says the special achievement award winner, Professor Susan Jebb OBE, a nutrition scientist at the University of Oxford. “And here at the awards, there are some brilliant examples of good practice which are popular with customers and which are really good for people’s health. It’s a fantastic occasion.”

Jebb’s comments neatly capture the mood of the awards, now considered one of the major events in the foodservice calendar. Shirley Duncalf, the head of sustainability for Bidvest Foodservice, agrees: “This event is important as it makes sure we bring all the right people together to collaborate on solutions to deliver healthy and user-friendly diets.”

Education in action

Foodservice has been “leading the way in health and wellbeing in the workplace for many, many years”, says Compass’s foodservice director, Michael Hickman. The last year, however, has been notable for the “huge drive in providing the consumer with the education and information they need to make a balanced choice, and the understanding of what is in the food we are providing them with”.

From the work done by ISS at Barclays Bank to get staff eating and understanding healthy food, to Sodexo replacing high-calorie, low-nutrition vending at Southampton Solent University with health-conscious, locally sourced, low-calorie organic options such as juices, popcorn and baked vegetable crisps (which have helped contribute to a 20% uplift in sales), entries had to demonstrate that initiatives are both effective and commercially beneficial.

Winners boost

And winning can bring its own benefits – magnifying an initiative’s success by promoting the initiative to its target audience, according to Harriet Knights of winners Brighton and Hove city council. The council bagged a public-sector health & vitality honour for its work in making Brighton a “sugar smart city”.

Winning also provides much-needed motivation that the staff need to keep “initiatives alive”, according Judy Roberts, the creative director of CH&Co, which sponsored the public-sector award and also took the healthy hospitality honours. The company’s social norms research revealed that just telling people that other customers chose vegetables with their meal, via posters and table talkers, was enough to influence them to eat more vegetables. The initiative changed customers’ behaviour “without them realising they are being influenced”, making it “quite painless for them to eat vegetables after all”.

But the value of successful initiatives is that “with such knowledge comes the power to help to influence the customers we feed each day by changing the way we think about the messages we give them about healthy eating”, Roberts says. This is a lesson that every part of the sector can learn from.

Top trends identified

The Footprint Health & Vitality Foodservice Trend Report 2016, supported
by Bidvest, was also launched at the event. Identifying top trends such as sustainable menus and the importance of nutritional training for chefs, the report is a sneak preview of the full Footprint Sustainability Index coming this year. It spotlights which parts of foodservice have made good progress as well as the players who need to up their game.

“This report is so important because it presents what the industry needs to focus on in a very simple and user-friendly fashion,” says Duncalf.

It also highlights a key theme of the night – that foodservice has the responsibility to make out-of-home food healthier, whatever the policy or voluntary framework. As Amanda Ursell, the Health & Vitality Honours’ principal ambassador, summed up, “regardless of what happens to the Responsibility Deal, this is not the time to take our foot off the pedal. The problems associated with nutrition in this country are not going away, they’re getting worse and we all have to do something to help reverse that.”

The challenge to foodservice companies is to build on this year’s winning formulas and come up with even more ambitious, effective and far-reaching entries for next year, to show that those in foodservice have begun to truly embed healthy eating into the out-of-home experience.

For a full list of winners, click here. To view film of the event, click here.

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