UK supermarket giant Tesco has been challenged by a group of investors to do more to tackle the country’s obesity crisis.
A coalition of institutional and retail investors has filed a health-based shareholder resolution, calling on Tesco to set targets to increase the proportion of healthy products it sells.
The investors, led by pressure group ShareAction, will ask shareholders to vote for their plan at Tesco’s annual meeting in the summer.
Tesco responded by saying it already has a plan to make healthy and sustainable food more available.
The resolution is being filed by seven institutional investors – including Netherlands-based asset-management firm Robeco and Hambro, a wealth-management business in London – managing more than GBP140bn (US$193.6bn) in assets, along with 101 retail investors.
They argue that Tesco, as the market leader with 27% of the UK’s grocery market, plays a central role in shaping the nation’s diets and must reduce its reliance on unhealthy products for sales growth. They also suggest that Tesco’s performance on health issues lags behind some of its peers.
If the resolution is passed, it will require the company to disclose the share of total food and non-alcoholic drink annual sales by volume made up of healthier products and develop a strategy to significantly increase that share by 2030.
It will also be required to publish a review of its progress each year in its annual report from 2022 onwards.
Ignacio Vazquez, senior manager at ShareAction, said: "As the UK's largest food retailer, Tesco's actions are of systemic importance in tackling obesity. But its prime market position has not yet translated into leadership on this critical issue. We hope that Tesco's board will endorse the resolution and grasp the opportunity to help build a healthier UK post-Covid, while also improving its financial sustainability in the long term."
Tesco has defended itself against claims that it is not doing enough to tackle obesity.
In a statement sent to just-food, a spokesperson said: "We are working hard to make it easy for our customers to make healthy choices, and we have set very clear targets on health and sustainability, published in our Little Helps Plan.
"Our reformulation programme has already removed more than 50 billion calories from our products since 2018, our 'helpful little swaps' events offer healthier alternatives to family favourites at the same price and we have given away more than 100 million pieces of free fruit to children.
"We have also announced a target to increase sales of plant-based meat alternatives by 300% by 2025, and were the first retailer to set a target of this kind.
"We keep our targets under review to ensure they are sufficiently stretching, reflecting feedback from a wide range of stakeholders, and will share our latest health ambitions ahead of publishing our next Little Helps Plan update.
"Looking forward, we have strong plans to make Tesco the easiest place to shop for healthy and sustainable food, to encourage increased consumption of fruit and vegetables, and to raise awareness of healthier choices."
No date has yet been set for Tesco's annual meeting. Traditionally, it falls in June or July.