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Why the food and drink sector should care about people's lifestyles (too)

Published: 12/07/2021

Eating habits and people’s lifestyles are inextricably linked with one another. The food and drink sector bears an important responsibility to ensure the availability of healthy, sustainable, affordable and tasty food and drink options on the market (more here). However, I argue that it should equally keep abreast of the ways people are living their lives and support them in making the lifestyle choices that contribute to a better, more sustainable society.

Studies consistently show that people who move more, adopt healthier eating habits more frequently. Equally, the combination of a healthy, balanced diet with adequate exercise offers more gains than improving diet alone.  

Clearly, one cannot outrun a bad diet. However, considering that nearly half of Europeans never exercise or play sport and a quarter of European adults – and four-fifth of adolescents (!) – are insufficiently active, action from all parts of society is needed to tackle sedentary habits. 

Here are some of the ways the food and drink sector can support more active behaviours:

  • Engaging in health in the workplace programmes, encouraging and incentivising employees (and their families) to be active and stay fit. For instance, the Irish employers association Ibec’s National Workplace Wellbeing Day is an initiative which aims to encourage Irish companies to support social, mental and physical wellbeing activities, including through an accreditation scheme called The KeepWell Mark™. As the largest European manufacturing sector in terms of employment, the opportunity for impact at scale is considerable. This can be perfectly complementary to workplace initiatives which have a stronger nutrition focus, such as the Workforce Nutrition Alliance by the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN).
  • Supporting adequate hydration and offering sports nutrition. Specific food solutions for athletes and sportspeople may encourage further uptake of physical activity. Read here about the considerations of SNE, the specialized nutrition sector, with regard to foods intended for sportspeople.
  • Promoting better eating habits and healthier, more active lifestyles holistically to a broad audience. The Spanish food sector federation FIAB’s initiative #AlimentActivos is an example of how the food sector can raise awareness about healthy eating as part of a healthy, active lifestyle by sharing practical tips to engage in healthy habits at home during the Covid pandemic.

Of course, people’s lifestyles are not limited to physical activity or health alone. They are increasingly determined by personal and societal considerations related to the environment, animal welfare, ethical concerns, socio-cultural and religious norms and habits, and more.

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The connection that food companies build with consumers over time is two-directional. Companies are tapping into the business opportunities of rapidly-evolving consumer lifestyle trends, such as flexitarian diets, personalisation or sense of belonging. Moreover, through the power and reputation of their brands, companies can also act as a “force for good” in stimulating consumer awareness towards more sustainable, healthier behaviours and habits. The latter is increasingly becoming important as current consumption and lifestyle patterns unarguably remain unsustainable.

“[…] through the power and reputation of their brands, companies can also act as a “force for good” in stimulating consumer awareness towards more sustainable, healthier behaviours and habits”

By way of example, increased environmental consciousness of many citizens (and, consequently, changing behaviours) has translated into new, innovative business opportunities for sustainable food (packaging) options. Equally, it has spurred companies to take a leading role in providing consumers with practical steps they can take in the shops and their homes to prevent and reduce food waste (portion guidance, clearer cooking and storage instructions, etc.), avoid littering and thereby minimise the impact on the environment.

It goes without saying that companies should engage in a responsible and prudent manner when promoting healthy, active, sustainable lifestyles, which is not their “core business” as such. Companies are also not naïve to impose lifestyles on citizens – this will always remain one’s own prerogative. Yet, ignoring the role of companies in advancing societal needs, including through direct engagement with the people that purchase and consume their products, would be a severe missed opportunity to create a better world with happier and healthier citizens.

“Ignoring the role of companies in advancing societal needs, including through direct engagement with the people that purchase and consume their products, would be a severe missed opportunity to create a better world with happier and healthier citizens.”    

Want to learn more about the activities of the European food and drink sector, including in promoting better nutrition, more balanced diets and healthier lifestyles? Have a look at FoodDrinkEurope’s industry action website.

By Dirk Jacobs

Deputy Director General/Director of Consumer Information, Nutrition & Health