Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 820-839)



  Q820 Mr Burstow: Could you tell us how many individuals are working in your company specifically on health issues and separately how many are working on nutrition issues?

  Mr Cosslett: We have a science and research department. Part of their remit is the food safety agenda as a whole and part of that would be nutrition. There would be probably 20 people working in that in the UK. Recently, partly in response to the general concern in this area, we have put a team in place led by a lady social impact director, who reports directly to the chief executive. She has a global network of people in place now that is growing who have a large part of the responsibility for thinking about how we can not just develop nutrition platforms but, more importantly, get them into the market place so that they are commercially successful. Quite a lot of initiatives fail because they are well intentioned, but they do not deliver in the market place. We have a growing number. We have always had in the UK a large number of people involved in food safety and nutrition within that and that is growing as we become more interested in this issue.

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: We have a director of nutrition. In the UK nutrition is dealt with through cross-functional teams who come together to review our menu items and new menu items. They are obviously supplemented by a nutritionist and advisers working with our suppliers.

  Q821 Mr Burstow: And on the health side?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: We put them together.

  Q822 Mr Burstow: And roughly, in terms of numbers?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: It is very difficult to say because the cross-functional team will vary. It is quite a large number of people who are involved in the process.

  Q823 Mr Burstow: Are those people pulled out of other parts of the organisation to do this work?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: Yes, some of them.

  Mr Glenn: As a global Pepsi initiative, we have an advisory board on health and wellness of 13 eminent nutritionists and food scientists, led by Dr Kenneth Cooper of the Cooper Aerobic Centre and Dr Dean Ornish of the Preventative Medicine Research Institute of California. They provide global guidance. They give advice on new product development, whether things are suitable for the trends that we are all aware of as a business. Within the UK as well we have access, albeit discreet, to four nutritionists and food scientists who give the UK business advice on product formulation of our new product range.

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: I should have mentioned our global advisory council on nutrition which is made up of 13 people from different sectors around the world, including a gentleman from Leeds University.

  Q824 Mr Burstow: Mr Glenn, the two aspects you have described are both advisory roles outwith the company but working with the company. Do you directly employ any staff that deal specifically on issues around health and nutrition?

  Mr Glenn: It is the same answer really that Cadburys gave you. Within our research and development organisation that issue is picked up.

  Mr Mobsby: It is a rather strange question for us in some respects. I am not trying to be evasive. All of our marketing people have been exposed to nutrition considerations. We have dedicated nutritionists working within each of our businesses, either reporting directly to the general manager or in some instances in other areas. On a global basis, it would be unaffordable to fund primary research into many areas but on a global basis we coordinate our understandings and new learnings that are emerging in the areas of nutrition and nutrition science to try and pull that information into the business. It permeates our business quite considerably all the way through. Witness, we spend a lot of time trying to understand exactly what our foods do in the diet, as we try to illustrate in some of the information we provide.

  Mr Burstow: Afterwards, if anyone felt able to give us any concrete numbers over and above the ones they have given today and any additional memoranda on that, that would be very helpful.

  Q825 Chairman: Mr Hilton-Johnson, one of the issues that we have had raised with us is that at least one of your branches—I believe it is Paddington—has some formal links with the NHS whereby NHS staff showing their staff card can get some sort of discount, a medium meal for 1.99, normal price, 3.29. You can go large for an extra 30p. Is this a general arrangement with the health service or is it just a one-off that appears to have occurred locally?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: I am certainly not aware of it. I would suggest therefore that it is likely to be an initiative on a very local level, but I can certainly get the information for you.

  Q826 John Austin: Can I come back on the question I asked earlier about promotional toys? I understand that one of your promotions was that people had to collect the parts to put together so you had to buy a whole lot to get the final toy.

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: You are quite right. We did run one such promotion recently. It did not work very well and we will not be repeating it.

  Q827 John Austin: Mr Cosslett, you said earlier on you were in the food industry whereas some of your colleagues in the confectionery business suggest that they are not in the health or nutrition business but they are in the pleasure industry. I wonder if you would like to comment on that, particularly in the light of your website which describes the position of Heroes as "tiny little bits of fun for everyone to share". Crunchie is "the fun, feel good chocolate" and Curly-Wurly is "fun for everyone". Do you see yourself in the food industry or in the pleasure industry?

  Mr Cosslett: I think we see ourselves in the food industry, but we have a very specific role in the food industry which is to be a source of pleasure. It is generally known, and our research consistently endorses it over the decades, that confectionery is used to brighten people's lives. It is a shared product. 68 per cent of the products we sell are in a sharing format. It is designed to be a bonding, shared experience. Whether it is tubs of Heroes or Roses or family bars which gets shared around the family, that is at the heart of what confectionery is. It is based on cocoa, sugar and milk, so not to call it a food would be wrong.

  Q828 John Austin: I do not think any of us would deny that consumption is a pleasurable activity but do you feel you share some responsibility for the health consequences of the products you sell and for the obesity epidemic?

  Mr Cosslett: No. I do not think there is any correlation between confectionery consumption and obesity. We are a very small proportion of the diet. Our own products account for something less than one per cent of what people eat. All the evidence suggest that people use our products extremely sensibly because of the issue of it being a known quantity. I think it is the unknown quantities which present the challenges. I lived in Australia where confectionery consumption is half what it is in the UK. They have the fastest rising obesity rates in the world, despite their healthy image. The USA has far lower rates of confectionery consumption than the UK; whereas Switzerland has the highest confectionery consumption in Europe and it is comfortably down on obesity levels. There is no correlation. The market is fairly static, certainly in the last ten years, and children are eating no more. It really does not go anywhere close to explaining the huge growth curve that we are starting to see on levels of obesity. We have to look elsewhere for the major drivers of that.

  Q829 John Austin: All of us would agree that a good, healthy breakfast is a good thing and cereal is one of the ways of delivering it. You said added sugar gives you an immediate burst of energy because it does not have to be broken down in the way carbohydrate does. All the health evidence is that we are consuming too much sugar. Is there not an argument for reducing the amount of sugar in cereal products? You have accepted it for salt.

  Mr Mobsby: Yes. We are seeking to reduce our salt levels. The evidence on the problems of salt and health issues is probably a lot better and clearer than the issue on sugar. I have not seen any issues that clearly demonstrate there is a link between sugar and obesity. Maybe there is some evidence I have not seen but I am not aware of it. We talk about pre-sweetened breakfasts but I think it is important to get it in context. We do a lot of analysis trying to understand exactly what we contribute in the diet. Pre-sweetened cereals contribute just seven per cent of the added sugars within the diet. In that context, there are a lot of other things that provide a lot more added sugar within the diet. Seven per cent, to me, is a low figure.

  Q830 John Austin: Can I go on to the type of product that you use in manufacturing generally? It became quite clear to us in the United States that there is a massive government subsidy in manufacture to the sugar industry. Millions of gallons of corn syrup are produced which has to find a market somewhere. Certainly Coca Cola uses corn syrup exclusively as a sweetener. Is that true for Pepsi as well?

  Mr Glenn: I would have to check the details but I would imagine that would be the case. I would emphasise that 60% of what Pepsi sells in the UK is no sugar.

  Q831 John Austin: Are there health issues in the way carbohydrate has to be broken down by the body into sugars which are further broken down? Sucrose also has to be broken down before it delivers the energy, whereas if you are using high fructose corn syrup you are delivering it straight to the liver, bypassing the bodily functions of breakdown. Are there health implications?

  Mr Glenn: If we bring it back to the question of obesity which I thought was the term of reference of the debate, I do not know the answer to your specific question. There are a number of scientific theories bandied about on these things and you have obviously read something that suggests there is and I have not, but I am sure the Food Standards Agency would be well equipped to advise whether it were a problem or not. To come back to the notion of obesity, the simple message to people is the only way we will make progress and getting diverted about high fructose corn syrup and government subsidies may or may not be helpful.

  Q832 John Austin: We talk about calories in and calories out. I believe you use palm oil in many of your products which has a healthy tag because it is vegetable oil, whereas it is mostly saturated fat, is it not?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: I do not know specifically about palm oil. I do know that we made a change which was broadly viewed as being positive to move to 100 per cent vegetable oil in our cooking processes. This question has never come up with me in this kind of context before and it has never been raised by one of our nutritionists. We do have different cooking processes in the UK as compared to the US. For example, we reduced trans fatty acids by 50 per cent in the UK a number of years ago. It is my understanding that they have not done that in the US, so we have changed cooking processes and the fat content of what we sell has gone down over the years. It is quite significantly less than it was, say, in the mid-1980s.

  Q833 John Austin: What were the principal drivers that led you to move in that socially responsible way?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: I think it was changing customer tastes.

  Mr Glenn: Clearly, there is a similar issue that applies to crisps and snacks. You are absolutely right. We use a blended vegetable oil called Palmolin which is relatively high in saturated fats. In the US they use a different oil which is high in trans fatty acids. If I refer you back to the submission and the data from the Pepsi Cola Report of 2002, there is a lot of innovation going on in cooking oils. In the US, there is a recognition that if you could reformulate the oil blends to reduce trans fatty acids it would be a good thing. At some considerable cost, the US changed its cooking oil. In the UK, Walkers is also reformulating its core brands. We have a low oil/low fat brand called Lites, which are cooked purely in a new oil called high oleic sunflower oil. It has a very similar fat profile to olive oil. It is very low in saturated fats. It is hard to get; it is very expensive and we have put it into a small part of our range but over the next few years we plan to blend it into the oil that we use with a target of reducing saturated fats by 50 per cent. You can question the motives. Why are we doing this? Because we think it is going to stand well with the consumer.

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: I have just been informed that when we moved to vegetable oil it was not palm oil. It was rape seed oil.

  Q834 Dr Naysmith: Earlier, we were talking about the need to put out a simple message about the potential dangers of some of the products you produce. I accept what was said about a balanced diet. All of you seem to agree that there is some merit in the idea of a simple message, even if it is only something like calories in, calories out and making sure that gets across more effectively. Yet, you all put out different messages in your marketing strategies, particularly in terms of portion size and super sizing. Recently, there has been a big concentration on buying a bigger portion and getting it cheaper and there must be a lot of temptation in that for people. That is clearly going in the opposite direction. Particularly to McDonald's to start with, super sizing encourages people to eat larger portions and academic research shows that. The cost is very little so in purely financial terms such offers are very hard to refuse. Could you tell us what your company policy is on super sizing?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: Super sizing accounts for two per cent of our sales. If you look at the average portion now as compared with 20 years ago, it is lower in calories and it is lower in fat because of a number of different initiatives, not one single thing. We provide very clear nutritional information to people, telling them exactly what they are consuming. We stress the importance of a healthy, balanced diet.

  Q835 Dr Naysmith: I find it very hard to believe that it is only two per cent of your turnover.

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: It is two per cent of turnover and four per cent of meals which are super size in the UK.

  Q836 Dr Naysmith: When you are training staff, is there any attempt to encourage them to encourage customers to ask for a bigger portion if they ask for the standard size?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: Staff training is obviously very wide ranging but there are a number of things customers may be asked. They may be asked if they want their meals to be larger.

  Q837 Dr Naysmith: That is part of the training?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: Yes.

  Q838 Dr Naysmith: You encourage customers to ask for bigger portions?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: We encourage staff to ask questions and leave it to the customers to decide, making sure that they are fully apprised of the nutritional information.

  Q839 Mr Burstow: When you apprise them of nutritional information do you at that point, when you are offering a larger portion, draw attention to the leaflets? Is that part of the training?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: It is not part of the training. The leaflets are available if people want them.

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