This project was the first of its kind in Australia to assess major food companies on their policies and commitments related to population nutrition and obesity prevention. The aim of the project was to drive improvements in the healthiness of Australian food environments, by engaging directly with food companies to benchmark their nutrition-related policies against international best practice, and providing tailored recommendations for each company. The goal was to provide a strong basis on which to hold these companies accountable for action, as well as a baseline to measure progress. This focus on benchmarking and accountability, including direct engagement between public health researchers and major food companies as part of the research process, is highly novel in the area of obesity prevention in Australia.
The project, completed over 12 months (May 2017 – May 2018), within a budget of $75,000, assessed the largest 34 Australian food companies across three sectors. For each company, publicly available data on their nutrition-related policies and commitments were collected. Companies were then invited to liaise directly with the research team to supplement the publicly available information. Each company was allocated a score out of 100, taking into account the comprehensiveness, transparency and specificity of their policies and commitments across six policy domains. 75% (3/4) of supermarkets, 58% (11/19) of food and beverage manufacturers, 18% (2/11) of quick service restaurant chains, and the key industry associations (Australian Food and Grocery Council and the Australian Beverages Council) actively engaged in the research process.
The project findings were launched in three separate reports (one for each sector) in 2018. Each release generated saturation Victorian and national media coverage (330 separate news items, reaching >10 million Australians, equivalent to advertising spend >$3.9 million), including on all major TV networks, newspapers, radio and online news outlets. Evaluation of the project with company representatives highlighted a number of examples of the project’s direct impact on company practices and policies.
The project added to the evidence base by establishing the first set of Australian benchmarks of food company policies and commitments with respect to nutrition. It also demonstrated the positive impact of direct knowledge exchange with food companies, and successfully engaged the media to help drive improvements in company performance in the area of nutrition and obesity. The methods developed specifically for this project are now being applied in seven other countries (New Zealand, Canada, Malaysia, Vietnam, Chile, Brazil, Mexico).