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Read Stein Erik Hagen’s speech

Chairman of the Board Stein Erik Hagen

Styreleder Stein Erik Hagen

Chairman of the Board Stein Erik Hagen gave a talk today on Orkla’s efforts to promote better public health to the Norwegian Minister of Health and Care Services Bent Høie and several other actors in the Norwegian food industry. Read the whole speech here.

Honourable Minister, dear customers, suppliers and competitors. Today we are here first and foremost as allies.

I would like to thank the Minister for taking the initiative to arrange this important meeting, and for the invitation to attend. The challenges associated with public health engage me. I believe that close dialogue and broader cooperation between the authorities and we who operate in the industry are precisely what it will take to solve the problems posed by obesity, overweight and malnutrition.

Some 1.5 billion people are overweight. Of these, 200 million are children of school age, according to statistics from the World Health Organization. Last week we learned that half of the Norwegian population may be defined as overweight. This may be a slight exaggeration, but there is no question that we have a growing problem, and that we have no time to waste.

We who are here today know Norwegian raw materials better than most people. We also know Norwegian consumers better than most, and we work closely with the authorities. I am certain that by joining forces we can contribute to making a difference in public health.

Today, I would like to tell you a little about the work we do at Orkla to encourage a better diet. As the Nordic region’s leading branded consumer goods company, we have the possibility of making a positive contribution to public health. We understand our role, and we want to help ensure that our consumers have a better, healthier life.

Orkla has identified four areas in which we can create genuine improvement. These four areas are healthier innovation, responsible marketing, clear product labelling and physical activity.

But first, I would like to take you back to March 5th of this year. That was the day on which Norwegian authorities presented new recommendations for a healthy diet and physical activity.

Besides reducing our consumption of saturated fat, salt and sugar, the Norwegian Directorate of Health recommends that we eat more fatty fish, lean meat, fruit, vegetables and whole grain products. For the first time, moreover, the authorities have included a recommendation to reduce physical inactivity among children, adolescents, adults and the elderly.

The authorities’ advice is important, but I think that we can all agree that it has little value unless people actually listen to it and change their eating habits. And as we all know, old habits can be hard to break.

This brings me to the first of our four priority areas – namely innovation. We think that convincing the population to make major changes in their eating habits will be a challenge. The food industry can play a key role in this respect because we can help people to improve their diet by developing healthier versions of the products that they eat and drink every day.

In other words, we believe that it is crucial to make Norwegians’ popular favourites and everyday food healthier. By doing so we will reach a much broader segment of the population than if we simply launch individual healthy products.

One example of improvements is our efforts to reduce use of palm oil and replace it with healthier oils. By eliminating palm oil from our products, we have reduced the annual Nordic consumption of saturated fat by 6,500 tonnes.

We have also reduced the content of salt in our products. The effect of this work is equivalent to an annual reduction in salt consumption of 260 tonnes. But we’re not stopping there. We are now in the process of defining new objectives.

In addition to saturated fat and salt, we also want to reduce the proportion of sugar in products. So far we have cut sugar consumption in Norway by 6,500 tonnes per year. Half of Orkla’s beverage sales derive from products that are sugar-free or have reduced sugar content.

As you can hear, I am an eager advocate of ensuring that our foods and beverages are healthier and better, and contain less sugar, salt and saturated fat. As I said, we intend to make our popular favourites healthier.

At the same time, we will create new and even more wholesome concepts through innovation.

A good example is Stabbur-Makrell mackerel. In 2002, we launched mackerel in tomato sauce in a smaller packaging format. It was an instant success. The following year we launched mackerel in tomato sauce in a tube, and then small single-portion packaging and new flavours. As a result, sales of Stabbur-Makrell rose 405 per cent over a period of 12 years. As we all know: fish is healthy!

Another example is Axellus, the company that spearheads our nutrition and health innovation. Axellus is behind Möller’s Tran cod liver oil and a number of other dietary and sports nutrition products. With Möller’s we have further developed a solid brand name and launched a variety of innovations, all aimed at making it easier for people to take the omega-3 and vitamin D and A that they require.

Developing new and healthier products requires a knowledge of the way food affects the body. We therefore work closely with several centres of excellence and research. In my opinion, it would be an advantage if the government could provide better conditions for more applied research on nutrition and health. The results of such research may be vital to our common efforts to promote better public health.

We also focus on offering healthier alternatives in the chocolate, confectionery and snacks categories. One example is Polly Naturligvis (Naturally) salt-free mixed nuts.

However, some products are simply too good to tamper with. As you know, we also consider it our task to deliver pleasure and delight, and we think that a moderate intake of sweets has a positive effect on health and well-being.

Our second priority area in nutrition and health is responsible marketing.

We who are here today account for a large part of all marketing in Norway. This means that our voices are heard, and that we have a considerable influence. However, with this power also comes responsibility.

As a major advertiser, responsible marketing is an important issue for us. We have made a choice. We are committed to protecting children and youth from marketing and instead directing our sales messages at adults. Parents are the ones who can best determine what their children should eat and drink. Besides, parents are the ones who do the shopping.

In 2013, the industry took the initiative of establishing the Food and Drink Industry Professional Practices Committee (MFU). The committee deals with complaints concerning the marketing of food and beverages to children. Orkla has played an active role in promoting the establishment of this system.

Our experience so far is that the arrangement has an effect on the way marketing is carried out, and that the control and sanction functions are effective. We have a firm belief in this system, and that the industry is capable of demonstrating accountability and of regulating itself.

In addition to responsible marketing, clear product labelling is essential to enable consumers to make sensible choices. This is a matter close to my heart and the third area in which I believe that we as an industry have considerable potential for improvement.

Information on products’ nutritional content must be fact-based and easily accessible. Our goal is to make labelling so clear and simple that everyone can understand it.

In 2013, we at Orkla drew up internal guidelines for good, uniform nutrition labelling for food products. These guidelines are now being rolled out in our companies.

In addition to general nutrition labelling, we in Norway have the Green Keyhole label for products that are particularly beneficial in terms of nutrition. The keyhold label is designed to make it easier to eat healthily. Orkla is in favour of the keyhole labelling system, and it is an area in which we, the industry and the authorities have worked closely.

The last topic that I will be talking about today, which constitutes our fourth priority area, is physical activity. Considerable attention is also devoted to this issue in the government’s new dietary recommendations. It is a clear acknowledgement that we are far from as physically active as we were just a few decades ago, and that a healthy diet can only partly compensate for this inactivity. I am glad that the health authorities are placing more emphasis on viewing physical activity and diet in conjunction with one another.

These are recommendations that we at Orkla take seriously. We want to take greater responsibility for public health and are particularly committed to ensuring that children and adolescents lead more active everyday lives. We look forward to the discussion, and we hope that the panel will be able to address this topic later today, so that we can all benefit from some tips.

Orkla is not the only one that is concerned about public health. In the past few years, I have been inspired by companies like Nestlé and Unilever. They show that it is possible to bring about real improvement, by making corporate responsibility an integral part of their strategy and business practices.

We at Orkla want to be equally ambitious. Our new vision, which we launched last autumn, is:

Improving everyday life with healthier and more enjoyable local brands.

That is the promise that we make to all consumers and customers. Our products must not only be sustainable and delight consumers, they must also fit into a balanced diet.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that the challenges posed by overweight and lifestyle diseases require a concerted effort by all sectors of society.

I therefore hope that all of us present here today, as representatives of national authorities, the retail trade and suppliers, can join forces to make a powerful contribution to public health through dialogue, binding cooperation and concrete measures.

Thank you for your attention.