Tesco, Coca-Cola to Cut Calories in U.K. Obesity Fight

Tesco Plc, Coca-Cola Co. and Asda, the U.K. supermarket chain owned by Wal-Mart Stores Inc., have pledged to cut portions and reformulate products as part of a U.K. government drive to curb obesity.

Nestle SA, the world’s biggest food company, and Premier Foods Plc, owner of the Hovis bread and Bisto gravy brands, are also among the 17 companies committing to reduce calories, the U.K. Department of Health said in a press release today.

“This pledge is just the start of what must be a bigger, broader commitment from the food industry,” Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said in the statement. “Eating and drinking too many calories is at the heart of the nation’s obesity problem.”

Coca-Cola Great Britain will invest 15 million pounds ($24 million) by 2014 to reformulate some of its soft drinks and cut the average number of calories per liter by at least 30 percent, the company said today in a press release on its website. It will also increase the marketing budget for its Diet Coke and Coca-Cola Zero products by 25 percent, it said.

More than 60 percent of adults and a third of 10 and 11 year olds are overweight or obese in England, the Department of Health said in the statement. The plan is designed to reduce consumption by 5 billion calories a day by reformulating products, reviewing portion sizes, educating consumers and boosting marketing of lower calorie options, it said.

‘Encouraging Start’

“This is a very encouraging start,” Dr. Susan Jebb, Cambridge, England-based head of diet and population health at the government-funded Centre for Diet and Activity Research, said in a statement. “I am impatient to make progress. I know some other companies are already developing their plans, but we need everyone, all companies -- from all sectors and all sizes - - to step up and act for the good of the nation’s health.”

U.S. policy makers are also seeking to reduce an obesity rate that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says has more than doubled since 1980 to 72 million people. The administration said Jan. 25 that school lunch counters will start replacing breaded patties and canned fruit with fresh tomatoes and chef salad while Michelle Obama has enlisted companies including Wal-Mart to fight childhood obesity.

U.K.-based Premier Foods will reduce calories across one-third of its portfolio by 2014 and provide consumers with lower calorie choices in at least 30 percent of the company’s new products as part of the initiative, it said in a statement on its website today.

“Premier Foods calorie plans will focus on the company’s power brands including Ambrosia, Batchelors, Hovis, Loyd Grossman, Mr. Kipling and Sharwood’s,” the company said.

Marks & Spencer Group Plc, WM Morrisons Plc, J Sainsbury Plc, Waitrose Ltd., Kerry Foods Ltd., Kraft Foods Inc., Mars Inc., PepsiCo Inc., Unilever NV, Whitbread Plc’s unit Beefeater, Subway Restaurants and Compass Group Plc have also signed the initiative, according to the Department of Health.

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