PLANS to increase and update quality Co-op brand food ranges to satisfy consumer demand were announced at the AGM.
The issue was raised in a motion proposed by Dave Doyle on behalf of the South West Region.
Said Mr Doyle: "There has been an increasing awareness in the population at large that low price is not the only criterion when choosing and buying food. The public is becoming much more aware of healthy eating.
"Co-op brand food should be of obvious and undoubted purity and quality and produced from regionally sourced produce where possible."
In response, platform spokesman Simon Butler said three initiatives were being developed in support of customers' changing expectations and demands.
The first, a ‘Simply' range – promoting "food as it should be" is set to be launched in September. This, said Mr Butler, would offer a range of meal solutions without hydrogenated fat, artificial flavourings, added preservatives, emulsifiers or stabilisers.
This is in addition to existing policies banning artificial colours and MSG. Only free range eggs will be used and Mr Butler said the new range will cover soup; meals centred on chicken, beef, pork and lamb as well as a selection of ready-to-cook joints and vegetable accompaniments.
Promised Mr Butler: "This cross-category range launch will be the start of an ongoing programme to reduce and remove additives across Co-op brand products. We will prioritise those additives and ingredients our customers are most aware of – such as preservatives and hydrogenated fats – and categories such as ready meals that
particularly concern our customers."
Plans are also in hand to drive forward the Premium range of Co-op food products – currently only two per cent of the range – and Mr Butler told the meeting that customer choice for those who want to ‘trade up' was being severely limited.
"We will address this in two phases. At Christmas 2006, 25 per cent of our festive range will be Premium – double last year's total – and in Quarter Two, in 2007, we will refresh our existing Premium range and fill the key range gaps."
The third strand of the healthy eating shake-up involves what Mr Butler described as the "rejuvenation and relaunch" of the Healthy Living range and ‘Naturally Healthy' signposting for customers.
He said: "The whole range will be reviewed and upgraded and will comply fully with the latest FSA guidelines. Key gaps will be filled with new products. In addition, we will help customers by highlighting foods that are ‘naturally healthy' across the full Co-op offer. Next January is the ideal moment to launch this truly customer-focused activity."
The motion was passed unanimously.