Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 740-759)



  Q740 Chairman: Mr Cosslett, your evidence refers to the Jebb/Prentice paper and their evidence. My recollection of Professor Prentice's evidence is that when he came to the Committee he was quite critical of the food industry in that he felt that his research and his colleagues' research had been somewhat distorted by the food industry. He said he was "less than pleased" at the way his research had been "wilfully misused" by the food industry so as to imply "it is nothing to do with food, it is all down to physical inactivity". The data on food consumption is not reliable and yet it would appear that the evidence that you have specifically referred to, indeed your colleagues base so much of what they are arguing on what he said, is rather unreliable. Do you want to respond to that point?

  Mr Cosslett: I think one of the general issues here is that we have as an industry, as a society, not good enough data anyway and I would accept that.

  Q741 Chairman: So you would accept that the data he was referring to was not reliable?

  Mr Cosslett: It is the only data we sensibly have as an industry to use, so I have to look at the trends and I think if you use it for that then it is probably quite sensible. We have tried to do some work on our own to understand our industry better and we would certainly agree with the premise that there is under-reporting going on on most foods and some more than others. There is definitely a difference in our industry between what we believe is consumed and what the NDSD (National Diet and Nutrition Survey) says. I do not think we were being critical and certainly if that was the reference I would be surprised because we were never trying to exploit that data in any way, we were trying to use what was available in the public domain as a way of corroborating our own studies and working to try and get a triangulation point Since then we have gone on to examine more about general food consumption which does throw some interesting light on how the data is presented, such as the diets of people who have weight problems and the differences over what they do. I would be delighted to submit our information to the Committee to help build on this, but I do think we need a more robust and double-checked set of data that we can all rely on going forward.

  Q742 Chairman: On the basis of this energy in, energy out issue which I think we all understand and all agree is key to this question, I am interested in how you evaluate that point in terms of your own products, your own marketing. Mr Hilton-Johnson, one of the pieces of evidence we have before us suggests that a cheeseburger with fries and a milkshake contains 1,050 calories, so the energy in is 1,050 and to get rid of that energy I am advised that an individual male adult would have to do a nine mile walk. In what sort of ways is that reflected in your awareness of this energy out issue?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: Dealing first of all briefly with the energy out side, we have a long track record of involvement with sport going back to the 1980s. We are involved with over 500 clubs at local level and we have partnered with four national football associations and we are intending to create 10,000 new community football coaches over the next four years, that will be something like 0.3 million hours of coaching. I think we have a reasonable track record in encouraging particularly young people to take part in sport. What we try to do on the diet side is this: firstly, most people who come to visit our restaurants come two or three times a month and what that means is that they are eating 97 or 98 per cent of the food that they consume outside our restaurants, so that is going to have a very minor effect on their overall eating habits, on their diet. What we have done over the years is we have tried to make sure that we do provide nutritional information and in fact we started doing this comprehensively in 1984 in leaflet form. We have built on that in our customer services helpline, on our website and most recently by putting it on the back of trayliners as well so that people are able to make decisions about what they want to eat when they come to us on a fully informed basis. If they want to eat a cheeseburger, they can do that; if they want to eat something else, they can do that. It is all about getting people to understand what it is they are eating and allowing them the choice to do that.

  Q743 Chairman: Are you saying it might be reasonable for this Committee to be recommending that perhaps meals of the type I have just described should be sold on the basis of what the energy out implications are, ie if I consume the cheeseburger, fries and the milkshake then to get rid of that energy I have got to expend probably nine miles of walking or whatever? That is a pretty blunt message to me. Obviously as a Committee we are looking at what we will recommend and we have made no decisions at this stage. If we are looking at the parallels with tobacco, we have got some pretty blunt messages on cigarette packets. Are you accepting the need for people to be aware of a range of issues to do with your products? You have mentioned that you are informing people. Do you feel that people ought to be informed fairly bluntly about the implications of the consumption of a product of this kind?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: With respect, I draw a distinction between the food industry and the tobacco industry.

  Q744 Chairman: I understand that.

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: It is certainly important that people have an understanding of the need for a balanced diet and for a healthy, active lifestyle, I accept that. I cannot comment on whether you should go further and the specifics of the way in which you would do that, but I think it is a challenge for all of us in industry and within Government to communicate the energy balance in an effective way, I certainly accept that.

  Q745 Chairman: And you feel you have a responsibility to do that?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: We certainly have a responsibility to communicate what it is we are selling and, on top of that, as a company over many years we have promoted a healthy, active lifestyle as well.

  Q746 Chairman: The point I am making is that perhaps the message is not sufficiently blunt and if it was put in as blunt a fashion as I have put it to you that might be more effective. Would you accept that?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: I do not think it is about whether it needs to be blunt or not, it needs to be effective.

  Q747 Chairman: Blunt is perhaps the same word. Could it be simplified?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: It should certainly be simple because obviously customers are buying food two, three, sometimes four times a day, consuming food at that kind of interval, so it is important that whatever message is put out is simple.

  Q748 Chairman: A lot of us on the Committee have pedometers, which is a very interesting measure of exercise and it is very easy to convert the intake to the energy output required. In terms of your products, not just yours but your colleagues' as well, is it possible for us to think about how we might do this to enable people to understand the implications of what they are consuming more easily? At the moment calorific content does not mean a great deal to people, you look at the labels or whatever. Would it be helpful if we simplified it in the kind of way that I have suggested this morning?

  Mr Glenn: Absolutely fundamental to this issue is information and I think you are absolutely right, people do not really understand. It is an individual thing, it is about how someone doing a physical job needs to consume more calories and information is the key to it, but I think you have to be universal in the approach to that. You said food of this kind which implies that the assembled witnesses here today are marketing a certain kind of food which you feel perhaps requires a special kind of labelling. I think a big advantage would be for all food, whether it be packaged food, food in the Gay Hussar restaurant—

  Q749 Chairman: I do not go into the Gay Hussar restaurant!

  Mr Glenn: You need the same thing. Consumers are quite confused. People have got fat on low fat diets because they have not taken in the golden rule of calories in, calories out. If you take the snack industry, we voluntarily put what we call the big eight food-type labelling on the back of our packs which is actually in excess of what we need to do statutorily because it is quite important that people understand that and I think that is the key message. Whether it is blunt or whether it is effective is the key thing and what is the psychology of these people taking these messages in. Information for everyone, not just for snack food, for Cornflakes, for chocolate bars etc. You can get fat on avocados.

  Q750 Chairman: I take the general point. I was taking the specific example of the cheeseburger, fries etcetera because I have an example in front of me of the calorific content and the energy output needed. I agree with the general point you are making.

  Mr Mobsby: It is about providing information, but we have to try and make sure the information is helpful and as informative as possible for people. I am not sure of exactly the best way to do that and you have made one suggestion there, but I would be open to other possibilities. What we need to do is talk with consumers to try and understand what helps them. Is it as a percentage of what their recommended calorie intake for the day should be? I am not sure what the right answer is. I think the principle of saying that all foods should cover helpful information is absolutely right.

  Mr Cosslett: I would support everything my fellow witnesses have said. One of the things that we have lighted on in the last few months of looking at this is the difference in labelling in the packaged food industry and I agree with your point about clarity, but we have labelled since 1988. There is this huge area of food consumption and it is the fastest growing. Since 1992 to 2002 the out-of-home eating market has doubled in size. My products have been pretty flat in that time and I would imagine that my colleague from Walkers might say the same. That does not mean we are not responsible for trying to help. If you are looking for correlations of what has gone up, the growth in the out-of-home eating market has been staggering, it has grown £10 billion in ten years and in most of those places there is not a shred of information available. So when Tony Blair and George Bush got together and had their fish and chips and a pint of beer and a crème brûlée, that was 1,500 calories. How would they know that? There is no way you could know that. I know this is a sensitive area which I am sure we will cover, but children in schools eat about 800 or 900 calories a day. Anything that we could do that could get a universal signage—and WeightWatchers seem to manage to do it -maybe a numerical code that we could all use, if we could get people round the table from the food and restaurant industry and the pre-packaged industry, snacks, confectionery, staple diets, the entertainment industry and put it altogether with Government support, I think we could crack this and do something quite valuable.

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: I have four points to make. Firstly, whatever we do has to be simple and therefore it has to be consistent so that people do not have to change from one formula or message to another. It is important that it is done before the purchase takes place and that obviously has implications in our particular business, and I think that the industry is in touch with its customers and has the ability to communicate effectively, so if we work together I think we can do a good job.

  Q751 Mr Burstow: I want to follow up on the point Mr Hilton-Johnson has made. You are saying that that is something you would like to do now. Have you started work? Are there plans for to you get together after this inquiry today to start that sort of task of coming up with proxy measures of calorific intake? The Chairman has mentioned one which is numbers of steps. Another which certainly might relate to some of the products we are talking about here would be the amount of sugar that is in a product. For example, would it be a helpful way of measuring to use the numbers of spoonfuls of sugar that your products consume?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: Each of the companies here probably has some very good examples of things that they have done in the past and things that they have announced for the future. The industry itself announced a joint initiative a couple of weeks ago in which they have said they will come together and work much better. So the short answer is yes, the industry is coming together now and is working together to try and build on some of the individual company initiatives.

  Q752 Mr Burstow: What sort of timescale is that on?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: I do not have details of the timescale. We recognise that it needs to be quite quick.

  Q753 Mr Burstow: Mr Glenn, I want to ask about calories in and I think it is a very important issue you draw to our attention in terms of the need to have a balance there. In the second bullet point on page 5 you refer to one of the ways in which you as a company are using your packaging as a way of trying to deal with the calories in. You talk about providing a variety of pack sizes to enable control and you go on to say that the majority of Pepsi Cola sold in grocery stores is in re-useable, re-sealable two litre bottles. Is that not just really super-sizing the product? How does it reduce consumption?

  Mr Glenn: Supersizing to me is selling very large, individual ready to consume portions and we know that people do not use two litre bottles all at once, they put some in a glass and it lasts the week. The fact it is resealable and not sold as a ready to drink there and then pack makes the point.

  Q754 Mr Burstow: If one chooses to drink a can of Coke, that is gone, that is dealt with, whereas if they go into the supermarket and buy one of these massive two litre bottles of Pepsi Cola you are encouraging people to purchase a far larger volume of Pepsi Cola then they would otherwise be purchasing. Is consumption going down of your Pepsi Cola as a consequence of two litre bottles being the main way in which people are now purchasing your product?

  Mr Glenn: The Cola market is not growing, so that answers the first question. That said, there has been more growth within the total Cola sector, in the dietary sector, in the low sugar market as opposed to the full sugar market. It is about offering people choice. People do not consume two litre bottles of Pepsi. The interesting balance is Coke as well because Coke also sells two litre bottles and given they are not here and I am I can say that.

  Q755 Mr Burstow: I am sure they will thank you for that bit of marketing.

  Mr Glenn: It is obviously about offering consumer choice. Consumers want to buy products in these formats and, trust me, the two litre bottles of Pepsi that we sell are not consumed in one go.

  Q756 Mr Burstow: I accept the point about providing consumer choice, but does it actually help in a significant way to manage the intake of calories? What evidence do you have for that?

  Mr Glenn: Consumers make the choice and I think that is the key part of this. Individuals need to make the choice about how to regulate the calories that fit with their lifestyle and I would have thought a resealable bottle is a big help in that as opposed to a bottle that does not shut.

  Q757 Mr Burstow: Was your choice to offer two litre bottles driven by a desire to give people that ability to make a choice about calories or were there other considerations in your decision?

  Mr Glenn: We are a commercial enterprise who are in business because people put their hands in their pockets, take out money and buy our products, so we follow what consumers want. Consumers want convenience and a two litre resealable Pepsi bottle gives people convenience.

  Q758 Mr Burns: Is it not fair to say—and I happen to have been in a McDonald's recently in my constituency—that there are quite a lot of leaflets available to customers before they purchase? For example, there are things like "Five a day can be fun" which actually spells out quite categorically the Government's message that an apple a day is good, five fruit and vegetables a day, the actual criteria of good foods and you have leaflets that they can assess before they purchase whatever food they want. Is it not also fair to say that there are documents produced like "Our Food" which will give consumers rates of fat, energy etcetera, etcetera, so they have the information and they can then take what they regard as responsible decisions on the intake of their food and their children's food?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: Thank you for mentioning that, Mr Burns.

  Chairman: Are you sponsored by them?

  Q759 Mr Burns: No, I am not sponsored by McDonald's and never have been in my life.

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: As I said previously, we do have a good track record in trying to provide nutritional information to our customers which goes back to 1984. We do not have to do it, we do it voluntarily. We do it in a number of different ways and I will not go through them again, but yes, you are quite right. The leaflet that you have there was written by our nutritionist in the UK and what it is supposed to do is to assist in promoting a Government message about five a day. We have always advocated the importance of a healthy, balanced diet and that is supposed to build on that and if there are more things that we can do in that respect then we would be very pleased to consider them. I would go further than that. If I understand correctly what the Government is saying, there are some communities in Britain where it is particularly difficult to get certain messages across. We sometimes have a presence in those communities and so we can actually help in some of the most difficult areas.

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