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Stein Erik Hagen:

Orkla assumes health responsibility

Stein Erik Hagen

Stein Erik Hagen

The global challenges facing public heath require efforts by all sections of society. As a leading producer of foods and beverages, Orkla and its companies can make a positive contribution to public health by developing products which make it simpler for the public to maintain a balanced diet.  

In the VG (Norwegian newspaper) of 25 January 2013, I made a promise that Orkla would work hard to reduce the quantity of saturated fats, sugar and salt in our products. As one of the Nordic countries’ largest suppliers of convenience goods, we have a responsibility for public health. This is a responsibility we are willing to tackle together with the authorities and pressure groups.

According to WHO, there are 1.5 billion overweight people in the world. The same problem applies to 200 million children of school age. Surveys show a clear correlation between being overweight and being at increased risk of suffering cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, high blood pressure and a number of other diet-related disorders. As a result, a large part of the global population is facing an early death due to curable lifestyle disorders.

Combating lifestyle disorders

During the day, we consume a number of different foods and beverages. And each person’s level of activity varies greatly. It is generally agreed that each person’s increase in weight is the result of an imbalance between the consumption and use of energy – too many calories consumed and too little activity. Orkla agrees with that assessment. We believe that increasing obesity in the general population is the result of unhealthy dietary habits and too little physical activity. On the other hand, we believe that no single product or type of product is the sole cause of overweightness in the general population. Healthy dietary habits relate to the sensible choice of foods, eating and drinking in moderation and ensuring that the body’s nutritional needs are met by variation in the choice of food and drinks.

For many years, our food companies have been systematically developing products with less saturated fats, sugar and salt. Work still remains to be done, but our results have been encouraging. We are now intensifying work on adapting our products to the WHO’s recommendations in these fields.

26% of Orkla’s sales stem from food products and dietary supplements with health benefits or with reduced quantities of sugar, saturated fats and salt. Nutrition and health are important elements in the development of foods and beverages by Orkla’s companies. We are dedicated to the development of new products which will awake the enthusiasm of consumers, and which also fit in well with maintaining a balanced diet.

Responsible marketing

When launching new products, we depend on being able to market them in a positive way. In addition, we wish to protect children and young people from marketing which might be misleading or expose them to inappropriate pressures to buy things. Children and young people have less developed critical abilities than adults, greater natural respect for authorities and poorer abilities to understand humour and irony. Therefore, we believe it is only natural to focus our marketing messages on adults. Adults and parents are the best judges of what children should drink and eat. Besides, parents are usually the people who do the shopping.

Due to the increasing incidence of overweight among children and young people, marketing restrictions are under discussion in a number of countries. In Norway, the government has sent a green paper on the regulation of the marketing of unhealthy food and drink directed at children and young people. The purpose of the initiative is to reduce overweight among children and young people. Government departments have suggested forbidding the marketing of unhealthy food and drinks to children under the age of 18.

Orkla agrees that overweight and obesity are major social problems, and are particularly prevalent among children and young people. We also agree with the intentions behind the green paper. However, we do not agree that the solution to overweight and obesity is to forbid the marketing of products within the relevant categories. Orkla believes it is difficult to envisage how one can market these products in a way that neither appeals to nor affects people under 18 years old. Therefore, the Norwegian government’s new bill may be interpreted more as a measure to protect children and make it difficult to market products to adults.

In Sunday’s VG, the Norwegian Minister of Health Jonas Gahr Støre goes as far as to say that sector-supported schemes concerning responsible marketing are better than statutory requirements as long as there is willingness to assume responsibility. Orkla is willing to take that responsibility by developing products with reduced quantities of saturated fats, sugar and salt, in addition to engaging in responsible marketing.

Stein Erik Hagen,
Orkla’s Chairman of the Board