Shareholders urged to press food manufacturers for healthier products

Investors warned assets in companies overly reliant on selling unhealthy food may be stranded

Investors in food manufacturers have been told to use their voice – and vote – in the drive for reformulating unhealthy products.

A survey of food manufacturers showed over half of 100 flagship products on sale in the UK were unhealthy due to being high in fat, salt and/or sugar (HFSS). NGO ShareAction supported the research by Action on Salt and said investing in unhealthy food means risking stranded assets.

“The impact of obesity on a healthier society is clear and investments in companies over-reliant on the sales of unhealthy foods are fast becoming stranded assets.

“We have seen the UK retail market respond to these issues by setting clear targets to increase their sales of healthy foods over time. Shareholders of food manufacturers need to call on them to do the same,” said Ignacio Vazquez, ShareAction head of health.


Vazquez said while some manufacturers can be seen taking steps to increase sales of healthy foods, overall, the industry is lagging behind.

The 100 products in the survey were manufactured by Danone, Kellogg’s, Kraft Heinz, Nestlé, and Unilever. Nearly two thirds of Kellogg’s and Unilever’s flagship products scored as less healthy.

With restrictions on promoting unhealthy products near checkouts due to come into force in October, some manufacturers are more likely to be impacted than others. By its own estimate, Kellogg’s could suffer revenue losses of around £100m if they do not adapt.   

Further research commissioned by ShareAction in February found 55% of the UK public is in favour of manufacturers reformulating unhealthy foods to make them healthier. It also showed 68% want government regulation to make healthy foods cheaper and more available.

Better disclosures

In April, ShareAction coordination a $3trn coalition of investors to send letters to Nestlé, Danone, Kellogg’s and Kraft Heinz calling on them to disclose the share of food and drink sales made up of products classed as “healthier” in their 2023 annual reports. The coalition, including Legal & General Investment Management, BMO Global Asset Management, Castlefield Investment Partners and Rathbone Greenbank Investments, also said manufacturers should provide a long-term target and a strategy for increasing the share of sales from healthier foods.

The NGO had previously coordinated investor engagement with Unilever and secured commitments from the company to set a new benchmark for public reporting about the healthiness of the food it sells – measuring sales of its products against major government-endorsed Nutrient Profile Models as well as its own internal metric.

Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chair of Action on Salt, called it a “national scandal” most food companies are contributing to the number of people getting and dying from heart disease and strokes. He pointed out heart disease is the biggest cause of death in the UK.

MacGregor argued with people’s health so gravely at stake, the government should be taking much more serious action.

“Fundamentally, we need these companies to be more responsible and for the government to take full control with strict measures to include mandatory targets for reformulation, well enforced marketing and promotions restrictions (including shortening the delay to ban multi-buys and advertising) and better food-labelling requirements,” he said.