Key learnings from Health & Vitality 2019

Nudges, nutrition, and the need for urgent action: key learnings from the 2019 Health and Vitality Honours. Amy Fetzer reports

You could feel it in the air: the change in pitch. Health, and food’s impact on the health of the planet, has become mainstream. And at the 2019 Health and Vitality Honours, the excitement about the traction these issues are getting, and the sense of urgency that there was so much more to be done, was palpable. But what can be learned from the 2019 awards?

Nutrition is no longer a transient trend but a core business, and societal imperative. As many of the entries showed, healthier options can boost brand and drive sales, but with 63% of UK adults overweight or obese, helping customers make healthier choices is also vital to the nation’s wellbeing. After the National Diet and Nutrition Survey revealed that nine years of trying to educate people on the importance of healthier eating has barely shifted the number of people eating their five a day, whilst free sugar consumption still exceeds recommendations, creative approaches to making healthier options more accessible are needed.

Inspiration can be found in many of the winning entries. Take McDonald’s, winner of the Healthy Hospitality Honours. The fast-food giant’s ‘Meals under’ 400-calorie and 600-calorie meal bundle ranges help diners to choose healthier options.

The bundles include (often reformulated to cut fat, salt and calories) old favourites such as the McChicken Sandwich and Chicken McNuggets, as well as salad/fruit bags and vegetable sticks which count towards customers’ five a day.

Tied in to the Government’s ‘One You’ campaign, the initiative has had an impact, with certain menu items, such as grilled chicken wraps and side salads, seeing sales growth of up to 51%. Changing the order of drinks listing on kiosks has also seen positive take up of Coca Cola Zero Sugar and water over other soft drinks.

The entry demonstrates how reformulation, positioning and promotion can all combine to make it easier for customers to make healthier choices.

Nudges work and must be harnessed to drive healthier behaviours. After publishing Designed with Health in Mind with Footprint in 2017, Compass put some of the principles from the research into practice with a pilot with East Sussex County Council and its education division, Chartwells. The project won the Health & Vitality in Education Honours. It found that nudges, such as putting heart icons on healthier items like oily fish, helped to increase sales of these items by up to 23%. Educating students through health stalls and assemblies also saw scores on nutritional education surveys jump from 36% to 85%. As one of the HVH judges noted, “This pilot demonstrated how a simple 'nudge' process can be effective at increasing pupil consumption of healthier choices.”

Staff nutritional knowledge can be integral to improving customer diets. This was demonstrated by ESS’s entry, which won the Public Sector Health and Vitality Honour. In order to tackle the serious issue of obesity in the military, ESS has focussed on training its own staff to improve their understanding of nutrition. This enables ESS staff to nudge and educate military personnel to choose healthier options.

And it has been effective. 100% of the ESS staff who attended have a better understanding of nutrition, regulations, the menu and the role they play in improving personnel healthier meal uptake. Meanwhile, nearly half (48%) of all main meals sold have been Nutritionist’s Choice, whilst 61% of main meals purchased were not high in fat, sugar or salt.

Another learning from the initiative is that even customer bases, such as soldiers, who may be perceived as being less receptive to healthier diets, can still open to cultural shifts.

Sustainable diets have become a mainstream concept. Whilst leaders in foodservice started thinking about sustainable diets some time ago, wider acceptance has been prompted by the IPCC’s stark warnings on the imminent climate crisis, and calls from the scientific community for the urgent need to shift towards more plant-based diets.

“We’ve been surprised about the speed with which the media have picked up on the issues of diet relating to the planet… with the likes of the BBC covering it every two to three days,” noted Alex Glen, Marketing Director for runner up Quorn Foods UK. This increased mainstream media coverage is having an impact. According to Glen, “consumers [are] actively choosing meat-free options when they go out to dine which is great for the foodservice industry.”

YouGov data also indicates that consumers are starting to switch, with 44% of those polled saying they are willing or have already committed to cutting down or cutting out meat. More than half (56%) also say that meat is not necessary to have a good meal. This, observes Glen, is an important shift, indicating that there is now “a majority in the UK” actively focussed on more plant-based diets.

Mental health in the workplace is a vital part of health and wellbeing, with men at particularly high risk. 1 in 8 men have a common mental health problem, but few feel comfortable seeking help. Brakes Group “took a pledge to end the stigma around discrimination”, according to Pip Kilgannon, Head of Employee Relations. The company came up with a male-friendly “curry and chaat” format that “made it okay” for men to talk about mental health. The initiative ended up scooping the Corporate Vitality Honours.

“The response [to the campaign] was very humbling,” shares Kilgannon. The deluge of stories shared during the sessions, and on the Facebook page, led to an outpouring of support and understanding from colleagues. “We don’t know that people are going through these things until they share them,” notes Kilgannon. But knowing more about people’s mental health issues has enabled Brakes to put support mechanisms in place.

Awards drive better practice. The value of awards, such as the Health and Vitality Honours, is that they help celebrate and share good practice, whilst driving the industry to go further, faster. They also bring people together to discuss challenges, ideas and effective solutions.

According to nutritionist and long-time supporter Amanda Ursell, the winner of the 2019 Special Achievement Honour, “the Health and Vitality Honours have encouraged people to really take this whole area by the throat, to make changes that will really actually resonate and make a difference to people’s lives. And that’s something that really makes me feel happy.”

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