A new wave of Responsibility Deal pledges have been announced, one year on from the introduction of Health Secretary Andrew Lansley's approach to improving public health.
Compass Group, Unilever and Tesco were among a list of the country's biggest food outlets, manufacturers and supermarkets, to join forces to help cut five billion calories from the nation's daily diet as part of the new calorie reduction pledge.
Meanwhile, a billion units of alcohol is expected to be shed by the drinks industry as part of the alcohol unit reduction initiative being spearheaded by 34 leading organisations and brands, including the British Beer & Pub Association, Diageo and Molson Coors.
Lansley (pictured) announced the new initiatives last week, as the coalition government revealed proposals to impose a minimum alcohol pricing in a bid to tackle the UK's binge-drinking culture.
The calorie reduction pledge follows on from the commitment to calorie labelling, made by a number of operators and manufacturers last year, and Compass Group is once again an early signatory. It has publicly promised to reduce the calorie content of its standard recipes by up to 10% over the next 18 months.
Commenting on its latest pledge, group managing director Ian Sarson said, that as the UK's largest food service provider, Compass has a unique opportunity.
"Adopting this new pledge will be a significant challenge for our business given the thousands of recipes we will be reformulating but we believe it is the right thing to do in order to give our customers a healthy and informed choice," he added.
Sandwich chain Subway, which has 1,423 stores across the country, has committed to offer five of its nine low-fat range subs with fewer than 370 calories, as part of its £3 lunch offer, while manufacturer Premier Foods will reduce calories in one third of its sales by 2014.
A spokesperson for Unilever said that the company is committed to growing its business, but not at the expense of the environment and social wellbeing, adding: "Unilever UK is already on the path to reducing calories; it conducted important reformulation recently within its portfolio of spreads, significantly reducing the number of calories and the amount of saturated fat.
"It'll complement this with further activity around reformulation and consumer information to make it even easier for consumers to make healthier choices."
Dr Susan Jebb, chair of the Responsibility Deal Food Network, described the efforts of the firms committed to the new calorie pledge as an "encouraging start".
She said: "I am impatient to make progress, but it will take time to change the eating habits of the nations. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and we all have to commit to support this programme of works for years to come."
The new alcohol initiative will see a greater choice of lower strength alcohol products and smaller measures introduced to the market by 2015, following market intelligence that suggests demand for it has rocketed by 40% in the past year.
Accolade Wines, which produces Echo Falls, will gradually remove 25 million units from its wines, while Molson Coors, which co-chaired the Lower Alcohol workgroup of the Deal, has pledged to remove 50 billion units by 2015.
Mark Bellis, faculty of public health and co-chair of the Responsibility Deal Alcohol Network, said that switching sales to lower strength drinks could help reduce the alcohol problems that have grown over recent decades, but warned that action also needs to be taken with regard to the opposite end of the market.
"Making this pledge work is not just about increasing sales of lower alcohol drinks. For real public health benefits, industry must also reduce sales of higher strength products," he added.
Estimate suggest that in a decade, removing one billion units from sales would result in 1,000 fewer alcohol deaths per year; thousands of fewer hospital admissions and alcohol-related crimes, as well as substantial savings to health services and crime costs each year.
Signed up: Calorie Reduction Pledge Asda
Coca-Cola Great Britain
Compass Group UK and Ireland
Kraft Foods UK
Marks & Spencer
PepsiCo UK & Ireland
Subway International BV
Signed up: Alcohol Reduction Pledge AB InBev UK
Association of Convenience Stores
Bacardi Brown-Forman Brands
British Beer & Pub Association
Costcutter Supermarkets Group
Makro SS Wholesalers
McMullens & Sons
Musgrave Retail Partners GB
Pernod Ricard UK
TFC Wines and Spirits
The Co-operative Group
By Janie Manzoori-Stamford
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