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Public Health

Our health and wellbeing outcome is influenced by a number of factors from the environment surrounding us to what we eat and how we live our lives. In the developed world there’s a growing imbalance between the number of calories we consume and how many that we use through exercise and therefore we have a growing overweight and obese population in adults and children. We’re not eating enough fibre or fruit and vegetables, having too much saturated fat and added sugar and not enough of some vitamins and minerals.

As a population we need to rebalance our diet to eat more healthy foods so that we can achieve the right nutrient balance.  It’s not only obesity that’s a challenge but what comes with it in terms of increased heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.  We also have a population that is living for longer and we need to make sure that they live healthier for longer. M&S recognises it has a role to play as part of a multi-stakeholder approach to addressing the UK dietary imbalance.

Commitments and targets
We’re committed to leading the way in promoting healthy lifestyles and wellbeing, by developing innovative product ranges, offering the best information and encouraging our customers and employees to live healthier lives.

Approach
We have had a dedicated health strategy in place for over 10 years focused on supporting our customers to make healthier choices and this is now embedded as a strategic pillar of our Food Group.

We are making healthy eating easier through clear on-pack labelling and provision of accessible customer information. This is underpinned by a programme of reformulation to continually improve the nutritional profile of our foods to remove or reduce levels of unnecessary or unwanted ingredients such as additives, saturated fat and salt. We've also introduced initiatives to add nutrients that are in short supply into our foods to help boost customers’ intakes. This all works in combination with an innovative product development team which create recipes and ingredients that inspire customers to eat more healthily.  We believe that healthy eating should be pleasurable and not a compromise.

We’ve achieved a number of industry firsts – for example, we were the first retailer to:

  • Introduce No Smoking rules in 1959
  • Develop a low fat range, ‘count on us’, in 2000 to help customers interested in losing weight 
  • Introduce a simple signpost for healthy eating, the eat well sunflower logo, in January 2005
  • Introduce a combination of Dietary Reference Intake percentages and colour-coded front of pack nutritional information across prepared food in January 2007, which has since become the recommended industry practice
  • Remove all hydrogenated fats as ingredients from our food in 2006 and all artificial colours and flavourings from our entire food and soft drinks range in 2008
  • Worked with the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health to launched a high protein range designed to keep you fuller for longer (now called Balanced for You) in January 2010
  • Sell Better For You Milk in 2011 which has 6% less saturated fat than conventional milk as a result of adapting the way that our farmers feed their cows
  • Add vitamin D to our entire packaged bread range in 2015 after finding our customers were concerned they weren’t getting their recommended daily amount
  • Boost the fibre content of our White Bread so that it all provides a source of fibre in January 2016
We are a supporter of the UK Department of Health’s Public Health Responsibility Deal, which has resulted in the business signing up to 21 voluntary pledges and commitments across food, alcohol and employee wellbeing. Find out more about our progress.

We are also involved in other initiatives to ensure that ongoing nutrition science research is relevant to industry and addresses the health issues facing our customers, such as the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC’s) Diet and Healthy Research Industry Club (DRINC), a programme aimed at helping food companies to develop products that deliver enhanced health benefits for customers.

Our approach to public health focusses on:

Managing the safety and integrity of our products and supply chain

Health & nutrition policy positions
The majority of the food we sell is manufactured under our own exclusive brand – so we know for certain that it’s honestly labelled, made from high quality ingredients and to stringent standards which we will not compromise on.

Additives
We know that our customers prefer to avoid the use of additives, so it's our policy to minimise the use of food additives wherever we can, across our entire range of foods - and to use natural additives wherever possible.

We do not use any artificial colours or flavours in any of our food and drink products. There are a number of other food additives which are not permitted in our foods. These include monosodium glutamate (msg), cyclamates and tartrazine and over half of the additives permitted by the EU - particularly those associated with concerns about food intolerance and children's diets e.g. Ponceau 4R, Sunset Yellow and Carmosine. 

Training
We deliver independently accredited health and nutrition training to all of our foods teams to help support our development and reformulation work across foods and drinks.

Driving health and nutrition benefits across our product offer 

Reformulation
We have had an active product reformulation strategy for a number of years.

We continually review the nutrient content of our food as part of the development process and by benchmarking our products against the market.

We minimise the use of ingredients, such as added sugar, in products where the customer would not expect to find them.

Our activity on reducing calories, saturated fat, salt and added sugar as well as boosting fibre and other positive nutrients and removing artificial colours and trans-fat (and most recently our work to deliver smaller portion sizes of indulgent impulse products) is on the premise that we won’t compromise on the quality or safety of our food offer.  We believe the future needs in this area is reformulation around portion size whether that be clarity on size, resealable packaging or smaller versions of indulgent foods.

Product and technical development
We believe in inspiring our customers to eat more healthily through innovative foods and ingredients.  We’re committed to developing more innovative food in others ways too – for instance, we:

  • Enrich soils with nutrients that are lacking in the UK diet, for example, selenium
  • Add ingredients and nutrients to foods that have a preventative or targeted health benefit, such as vitamin D
  • Process foods in ways that optimise nutritional value
  • Develop innovative convenient product solutions that make it easier for customers to eat a healthier diet e.g. courgetti spaghetti launched in 2016, stir-fry combinations, freshly prepared fruit
We continue to look for opportunities to improve the nutritional profile of our food products but this activity alone doesn’t necessarily deliver public health benefits. Individual food products or nutrients alone don’t necessarily contribute to a health and balanced diet. 

For example, if our consumers choose to eat a lot of products from our Eat Well range they may overconsume certain nutrients. Therefore our approach is to focus on reformulating whole diets rather than individual food products and nutrients. We believe Eat Well, as well as offering customers a broader array of tasty, visually appealing healthy food products, can help us achieve this goal. 

Healthier food ranges
Specific to M&S, we’ve launched product ranges aimed at customers who are looking to purchase healthy and nutritious food.

For example, exclusive to M&S our ‘Balanced for You’ range (formerly ‘Fuller for Longer’) was launched in January 2010 and was developed with expert advice from scientists from the University of Aberdeen. All products in this range are full of protein and can be included as part of a weight loss or weight maintenance diet.  

Similarly, our ‘Count on Us’ product range has been specially developed to be low in fat (less than 3%) and calorie controlled. This range can be used to help customers who are trying to lose weight sensibly, offering a variety of great tasting products to choose from that contain less fat and calories than standard M&S products.

Helping to facilitate behaviour change through clear nutrition labelling and information

Nutrition labelling
We were the first retailer to introduce the combination of Dietary Reference Intake percentages and colour-coded front of pack nutritional information across prepared food in January 2007. This has since become the recommended industry standard.

We have now extended front of pack nutrition labelling across our food product catalogue, either full 5 colour coded nutrients or calories only where space is limited. We have also included calories (energy) labelling on our hospitality boards where space is limited. Feedback we’ve received from customers indicates that they find this labelling information extremely useful and that they expect to see it displayed on pack.

It is of course more difficult to determine how this information has impacted purchasing habits, but when we first launched the scheme the Dietary Reference Intake percentages did help to drive further product reformulation within our food development teams.

5 a Day
To help make it easier for customer to achieve 5 portion of fruit and vegetables a day we clearly label 5 a day portions on the front of pack to help customers include more of these foods in their diets. We also help to make 5 a day more convenient and accessible through innovative product formats and selection.

Hospitality labelling
Since 2012 we have also provided calorie labelling in our customer hospitality formats which has included M&S Café's, In Store Bakeries, Hot Food to Go and Restaurants. Healthy choices are also emphasised to the customer by the Eat Well sunflower logo along the customer journey in store and at the point of choice.

Eat Well
We launched our Eat Well sunflower logo as a signpost for healthier food choices in January 2005, and this now appears on over 1,400 products. Products that carry this logo must comply with strict nutrition criteria and fit within the healthy eating guidelines provided in the UK Government EatWell Guide.

The Eat Well sunflower logo now has over 90% recognition with our customers, and this had the biggest influence in terms of encouraging customers to choose healthier food products in our stores. We attribute this success to the fact that it is a simple and positive message (i.e. encouraging customers to choose a particular product rather than attempting to restrict individual choice).

Customer health information
We believe there is a need to better articulate the importance of balanced eating/diets and to make it simpler for consumers to understand, rather than focusing on individual nutrients which has invariably been the focus to date.

Our customers are able to access advice on diets and healthy eating through our ‘Ask the Nutritionist’ service which is available through our retail website and via our Retail Customer Services Contact Centre.

The feedback we’ve received indicates that customers tend to be influenced by whatever nutrient is being subjected to media focus or scrutiny at that particular time. Put simply, we believe there are many conflicting messages on public health and nutrition which can make it difficult for customers to understand what a healthy and balanced diet looks like.

We work with health professionals from across the UK to share the science behind our ranges and our approach on health, products and labelling – our goal is to reach over 1 million professionals each year.

Supporting our customers and employees to lead healthier and more active lives

Online health and nutrition website
In 2005, we launched a dedicated health and nutrition website to provide a range of interactive diet and lifestyle tools. On this site our customers can access free tools such as an alcohol calculator, BMI calculator and a body shape calculator. If customers create a profile, they also get access to other tools including dietary assessment, diet planner and weight loss tracker.

The site also offers a complete overview of our healthier food product ranges as well as recipes and guides to eating more healthily.

Supporting individual dietary needs
We know shopping can be difficult for people with intolerances, allergies and special diets. We have worked closely with national allergy charities to develop clear allergy labelling to make shopping for these diets easier across our store.

When developing new foods, wherever possible we also avoid the use of ingredients that are commonly known to cause allergies, particularly in foods where you wouldn't expect to find them e.g. milk protein in sliced meat.

Where we can’t avoid the use of these ingredients, it’s our policy to help customers identify whether a product is suitable for their diet through clear allergen and ingredient labelling. We highlight items containing the following allergens on the back of the individual pack:

  • Nuts and peanuts
  • Cow's milk
  • Goat/Ewe/Buffalo milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Soya
  • Wheat
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Oats
  • Gluten
  • Sesame
  • Sulphites
  • Celery
  • Mustard
We’ve also developed special ranges catering to certain diets such as vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free, wheat-free and gluten-free. For example, ‘Made Without Wheat’ is a specially developed range which is free from gluten but still provides the high quality and great flavour you’d expect from M&S. The range includes breads, rolls, sweet treats, groceries and fresh sandwiches. Everything in this range carries our ‘gluten free’ logo – this can also be found on other products across our stores such as soups, stuffings and sausages.

Where we can, we also provide a choice within our seasonal ranges for customers who wish to avoid particular ingredients e.g. gluten free Christmas pudding.

We make product information lists available to enable our customers to see which of our products do not contain gluten, dairy, egg, nuts, soya and sesame. Customers who have more than one intolerance or allergy can also check on combined lists of gluten and dairy, nut and sesame, and soya and dairy. All our lists are updated on a monthly basis and are available in stores from customer services. 

We also offer advice on vegetarian and vegan eating. We maintain a list of M&S products that are suitable for vegan diets and vegetarian diets which get updated on a monthly basis. These foods have been produced under controlled conditions to prevent any cross contamination.

Alcohol
We encourage responsible drinking and promote sensible drinking messages. We also provide alcohol units on our labels.

We work closely with the Department of Health and actively support organisations such as Drinkaware Trust and Alcohol Concern.

We’ve developed a range of low-alcohol and alcohol-free drinks and have introduced a range of wine containing 10% alcohol or less. 

We recognise that we have an important role to play in enforcing age-related sales, and have introduced robust measures to prevent young people getting access to alcohol from our stores. 

In 2014, we included kcal labelling alongside units of alcohol on our products to help customers better understand the impact on their diet and daily kcal intake.

Food at till points
Since May 2012, no sweets have been available which might appeal to children at our belted till points.

And since September 2015, confectionery, crisps, cakes and biscuits have not been available from the till points in all 580 of our owned stores. You will find seasonal and gifting products displayed here at key times of the year.

These foods have been moved to other areas of our stores for our customers to buy.

Healthy and active lifestyles
We’re committed to supporting our customers and employees to lead healthier and more active lives. 

Customers
We regularly talk to our customers about all aspects of a healthy lifestyle in our magazine, in store leaflets and our dedicated health website (see above). 

Employees
We’ve always worked hard to look after our people and maintain our reputation as an employer of choice. We believe that happier and healthier employees are more engaged and effective. 

We have a dedicated health and wellbeing area on our Intranet which promotes a wide range of information. It has video and podcast information from experts, access to personal health coaches and our occupational health and employee support services, as well as promoting opportunities to get active. Our Wellbeing Weight Loss Challenge is now in its fourth year and continues to grow. For example, 2,800 participants took part in 2015 which was up 40% on the previous year. 

We provide healthy options in each of our store and office staff canteen facilities, signposted through the healthy eating Eat Well logo. Where applicable, calories values are provided for core menu items and free fruit, water and breakfast items will be made available in all Lounge staff canteen store formats.

We have offered free health MOT appointments to office staff to measure key health markers with trained independent dietitians and we are in the process of trialling the roll out of this to store staff.

We also recognise the importance of balancing a focus on employee's physical health with mental health and in 2014 launched a targeted mental health awareness campaign as the beginning of a 3 year strategy around this area, building on the public commitment made to the MIND Time to Change pledge in 2014 on tackling mental health stigma in the workplace.

We participate in the Business in the Community (BITC) Wellbeing Public Reporting Benchmark which enables companies to measure the way they report on wellbeing against BITC's best practice framework. Find out more about our approach to sustainability benchmarks and indices.

Advocacy on public policy and thought leadership

Investing in science
Science will play a key part in understanding how we can continue to deliver enhanced health benefits to our customers in the future. It is important to continue to invest in science and research funding in order to generate product innovation or public policy interventions that can work to improve public health outcomes.

We are involved in a number of initiatives to ensure that ongoing nutrition science research is relevant to industry. For example, we are contributing to the funding of a joint BBSRC and food industry initiative, DRINC. This is funding research that helps develop our understanding of healthier diets – specifically, the effect of food components on energy intake, and how foods might be designed to have precise nutritional properties, explore bioactives in food, look at how beneficial compounds work and how health claims may be verified.

We have also developed strategic relationships with key UK national health charities to help support and drive science and education for both customers and healthcare professionals. These include Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity, Coeliac UK, HEART UK and National Osteoporosis Society.

Evidence-based policy making
We believe there is a need to improve the collation and understanding of evidence on public health in order to ensure that policy changes be accurately measured and refocused if necessary. This has not always been the case in this area, although there are some good examples such as the Change4Life campaign.

We are a supporter of the Department of Health’s Public Health Responsibility Deal, which has resulted in the business signing up to 21 voluntary pledges and commitments across food, alcohol and employee wellbeing.

We also submit evidence to support government inquiries and consultations. For example, in 2014 we submitted written evidence to the Health Select Committee’s inquiry into the impact of physical activity and diet on health.

Working with others
Listening, learning, responding and working in partnership is an important part of how we do business.

To develop our approach to public health, we’ve worked with many partners, including the Food Standards Agency, British Nutrition Foundation, Department of Health, and Public Health England as well as campaign groups such as CASH (Consensus Action on Salt and Health), and Which?

Operationally, Campden BRI are helping us ensure the safety and integrity of our products. And we’re also working with a number of organisations (Food Standards Agency, Drinkaware Trust, Alcohol Concern, Diabetes UK) to promote healthier and active lifestyles.

We believe there is a need to improve the collation and understanding of evidence on public health in order to ensure that policy changes be accurately measured and refocussed if necessary. We’re working closely with the Government, the IGD, BRC, and BBSRC on various public health related initiatives including research, public policy advocacy and thought leadership.  

Key documents