Tesco avoids protests with obesity action

Yau Ming Low / Shutterstock.com

British retailer Tesco is putting consumers on a mandatory diet: the group narrowly avoided protests at its annual general meeting by taking stronger action against obesity.


Threatening with motion

Tesco has been forced into action against obesity by activist shareholders ShareAction. The shareholder group had planned to protest at Tesco's annual meeting next month because they felt the supermarket group was lagging behind other retailers in the fight against obesity. 


The coalition of institutional investors, which even included one of Tesco's own charities (Guy's & St Thomas' Charity) would table a motion, along with more than 100 individual shareholders. According to Louisa Hodge, engagement manager at ShareAction, investors recognise the importance of health. "By filing a shareholder resolution, our investor coalition sent a strong message to Tesco and other supermarkets that shifting sales toward healthier options is important," Hodge told The Grocer.


Tripling up on plant-based products

The threat was effective, as Tesco will expand its commitments. In March, the group already set itself the goal of revising the composition of many products and, in time, to have 65 % of all sales come from healthy products. Now, the group is also making international commitments: the same objectives apply to Central Europe. The group is developing a plan to make its private-label products in Czechia, Hungary and Slovakia healthier and sell three times the amount of plant-based meat alternatives everywhere by 2025.


Even wholesaler branch Booker is being put on a diet: for example, the wholesaler is launching an online portal on which professional caterers can find recipes, information on allergens and nutritional data. Every time a product is revised, Booker promises to make it healthier and will offer a healthier alternative in all the major categories.


Dangerous precedent?

"We share the same goal as ShareAction to make it easier for our customers to eat more healthily, and we’re pleased to now broaden our public commitments to Booker and our Central Europe business", group quality director Sarah Bradbury said. The retailer also says it will continue to work with ShareAction. The campaigners are therefore pleased to withdraw their motion.


It may well set an important precedent: activist shareholders are turning up increasingly at general meetings, hammering away at other social objectives such as health and sustainability. ShareAction shows them what they can achieve.