European consumer co-operatives help to tackle obesity

Consumer co-operatives from across Europe are taking the lead in tackling obesity by promoting healthy eating. A medical condition that affects 10-30% of adults, obesity is a major...

Consumer co-operatives from across Europe are taking the lead in tackling obesity by promoting healthy eating. A medical condition that affects 10-30% of adults, obesity is a major public health concern.

A report by Euro Coop, the sectoral organisation of the International Co-operative Alliance, highlights the numerous initiatives undertaken by its members to encourage healthy eating habits among consumers. In its fourth edition, the report – Tackling Obesity: Consumer Co-operatives Leading the Way – features case studies from consumer co-operatives in Europe in areas such as food labelling, product reformulation, education and lifestyle, physical activity, as well as advertising and marketing.

Italy's logo: 'Moderate consumption for children'
Italy’s logo: ‘Moderate consumption for children’

According to the World Health Organisation’s Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (WHO’s COSI), around one third of children aged six to 11 years old are overweight or obese. Labelling products plays an important role in promoting healthy eating.

Coop Italy has developed a special logo Moderate consumption for children, which is present on the packaging of those products that are appealing to children but are rich in sugar, salt or fat – such as fruit juice. Another logo informs the co-op’s customers about how many minutes of physical activity are needed to burn a certain amount of the product.

Denmark's wholegrain logo
Denmark’s wholegrain logo

Another example comes from Coop Denmark, which forms part of the Whole Grain partnerships, a collaboration between food authorities, health organisations and the food industry. The wholegrain logo indicates that a product has a high percentage of whole grain, as well as a healthy nutritional profile in terms of fat, sugar, salt, and dietary fibres. More than half of Danish consumers are buying less white bread compared to a year ago, which the co-op attributes to the use of the logo.

The UK’s Co-operative Group is also focusing on making it easier for customers to identify healthier food choices through its Green Dot labelling scheme. These labels incorporate nutritional messages within a green dot graphic, such as “high fibre” (on foods that contain 6g of fibre or more per 100g) and “low in saturated fat” (on foods that contain 1.5g of saturates or less per 100g).

The Co-op Group's 'traffic light' system
The Co-op Group’s ‘traffic light’ system

Since 2006 the Group has also been using a traffic light labelling scheme, whereby the nutritional content of products is expressed in three colours. When products contain low/medium/high levels of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt, they will be identified with a green, amber or red light. The Co-op uses traffic light labelling for its own brand products sold as part of their take-away food and it has also included these on recipes features both in print and digital communications. The retailer is also integrating traffic light information with high, medium and low descriptors, accompanied with guideline daily amount information. Spanish consumer co-operative Eroski runs a similar scheme, with colour coding and guideline daily amounts.

S Group's heart symbol
S Group’s heart symbol

In Finland, S Group is using the Heart Symbol, a system launched by the Finnish Heart Association and the Finnish Diabetes Association at the beginning of 2000. The label means the product complies with the defined food-category based criteria regarding fat, sugar, salt and cholesterol. For its own brand products the Group is also using the guideline daily amounts to help customers understand the nutritional value of what they buy.

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In terms of product reformulation, the S Group, as well as Coop in Norway have been working on replacing palm oil with other oil alternatives. Coop Italy has been developing a range of products that meet the guidelines of a balanced and healthy diet while maintaining the taste. The range is called and includes morning biscuits rich in fibres, ham with reduced sodium, low-fat ice cream, as well as frozen ready meals. The co-op is also selling a range of products targeted at children aged four to 10 years old such as snacks, cookies, filled pasta and ready meals with fish and vegetables.

Euro Coop's report
Euro Coop’s report

As well as seeking to reduce the level of salt, fat and sugar, consumer co-ops have also been at the forefront of healthy eating campaigns. Through Food-O-Meter, Coop Denmark is collecting data on the daily consumption habits of Danish consumers. Another project of the co-op has seen 160,000 children take part in cooking workshops in their schools. The initiative was designed to trigger healthier eating habits among children.

In Holland, Coop Netherlands has launched the Month of Health Nutrition, paying special attention to vegetable consumption by giving cooking tips and background information on the origin of the various kinds of vegetables.

Commenting on the results of the report, Todor Ivanov, secretary general of Euro Coop, said: “It is our hope that our fellow co-operators and civil society actors will find this report inspiring and that it can serve as a model for other stakeholders in the food chain. Together we can encourage sustainable initiatives.”

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