Blog: Dean BestFood no longer public enemy number one in UK

Dean Best | 28 July 2008

So, food manufacturers – at least in the UK – are no longer public enemy number one?

Last week, we saw fresh evidence that, after a period firmly in the firing line, the UK food industry has managed to mollify the threat of stringent regulation and strike up a working relationship with the country's government in a bid to tackle rising obesity.

The UK government's Change4Life programme, which will see food manufacturers pledge over GBP200m (US$397m) in a multi-stakeholder scheme to fight obesity, was announced last week and was a further sign of the spirit of co-operation between industry and politicians.

Let's be clear: the spotlight remains on the food industry on a number of issues, not least on obesity, which the UK Health Secretary described last week as the "biggest challenge" the country faces. Obesity rates are rising and the forecasts – should the problem not be tackled effectively – are bleak.

Obesity is a complex issue, we all know that, but, by recognising that it needed to be at the centre of the debate, the food industry is now being seen as key to the solutions drawn up to tackle the problem.

Contrast that with the flak being thrown at the drinks business here in the UK over alcohol abuse and you will appreciate the relative success the food industry has enjoyed in presenting itself as part of the solution to obesity. Nevertheless, the food industry must continue to be seen as the driving force behind seeking a solution. Only that way will it be able to set its own agenda.

Mars, meanwhile, is looking to force the pace in a burgeoning category here in the UK – ethnic cuisine. The launch of PurAsia, Mars Food's first new brand for almost a decade, is designed to tap into what the company sees as the growing trend of consumers who want to replicate restaurant-quality food at home. It is a bold move and last week we caught up with Mars Food marketing director Paul Aikens to find out more. With UK consumers eating out less amid concerns over the economy, could PurAsia be the product they are looking for?

And, elsewhere, despite the economic downturn, food companies remain on the look-out for additions to their portfolios as we saw with the acquisitions of Bertolli olive oil and seafood brand Young's.

The acquisition of Young's again demonstrated the confidence that private equity, which is not currently as flush as it once was, still has in the food sector. Lion Capital's move for Young's and the continental operations of frozen food brand Findus highlights the belief among some in private equity that food can still offer healthy returns.


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