Taking a bite out of Canadian government’s proposed Healthy Eating StrategyApril 1, 2018
Retail Council of Canada supporting food retailers’ interests and consumers’ efforts to make good food choices
BY DIANE J. BRISEBOIS
CANADA’S food retailers take pride in helping Canadian families put healthy food on their dinner tables. There has never been a greater interest—from customers, regulators and health organizations alike—concerning ways to help Canadians make healthy food choices. Food plays a fundamental role in the health and wellbeing of Canadians. And improving diet quality is essential in reducing the current rate of nutrition-related chronic disease and improving overall quality of life for Canadians.
Retailers have been responding to this customer demand with innovation, which includes the development of new and reformulated products that reduce sodium, sugar and fat; the offering of meal kits that develop cooking skills, and programs and services like cooking classes, in-store dieticians and consumer education campaigns. All this retailer innovation is aimed at supporting Canadian customers in their efforts to make good food choices, while also contributing toward the growth of their businesses.
These same factors are also driving an increased focus on food and nutrition from governments.
In late 2016, the federal government launched a Healthy Eating Strategy that proposes a complete overhaul of nutrition policy in Canada. The proposal touches every aspect of food retail, including recipes, product design, labelling, marketing, and nutrition education, all of which will be changing over the next few years. The specific policies being considered include restrictions on marketing of foods to children, front-of-pack “high-in” nutrition labelling, substantial revisions to the Food Guide, and efforts to reduce and eliminate sodium and trans-fat.
While food retailers fully support the objective of the Healthy Eating Strategy, some of the proposals pose significant unintended consequences and would result in unnecessary additional costs. On behalf of Retail Council of Canada (RCC) members, we’re bringing solutions to the table that support the goal of a healthier Canada, while minimizing those unintended consequences for retailers. Our advocacy on behalf of our members is founded in four key principles, requiring that policies are:
- helpful for customers;
- based in science and consumer research;
- reflective of the work already being done by retailers;
- designed to minimize implementation costs and disruption to business.
For example, when the federal government first proposed putting front-of-package nutrition labels on products high in sodium and saturated fat, the labels were shaped like stop signs. The striking similarity to the chemical hazard symbols we are used to seeing on household chemicals and cleaners would have sent Canadian shoppers a message about food safety instead of conveying the intended nutrition education information. RCC worked with members to develop an alternative icon—a magnifying glass—so that the message consumers saw was about taking a closer look at the nutritional value of the product. These efforts lead to a collaboration with Heart and Stroke, and a version of the icon proposed by RCC has moved forward in the consultation, while the stop signs have been abandoned.
Proposals with respect to marketing to children could have far reaching implications on members’ businesses—even in ways that have little or nothing to do with children. RCC will be continuing to advocate for a policy that is focused on marketing activities that are directed at and intended for children. While some of the policies will also bring opportunities for collaboration and promotion, the proposed Food Guide speaks to enhancing cooking skills and food literacy, and home cooked family meals—all of which start at your local grocer.
RCC will continue to develop solutions that support Healthier Canadians, while protecting against unintended consequences, minimizing costs, and promoting and growing food retail.