Supermeals vs Sainsbury’s

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If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Sainsbury’s should be feeling very flattered by Supermeals, the Government’s latest health initiative under the Change4Life banner.

Supermeals is a way to encourage families to cook healthier meals in the New Year.

It includes recipes for family meals under £5 and a push from supermarkets Asda, Aldi and The Co-operative to cut prices on healthy foods such as fruit and veg and low fat yoghurts. This is all very well and I can’t criticise the concept. I can, however, criticise the execution.

The entire campaign is very similar to the successful marketing initiatives launched by Sainsbury’s in recent years, which makes me wonder if Change4Life is really necessary if supermarkets can go it alone.

Sainsbury’s launched its “Feed your Family” promo in 2008 starting with simple recipes to feed a family for £5 as a way to help customers feeling the pinch to cook tasty and nutritional meals on a budget.

The supermarket went on to take it further with a menu that provided three-square meals a day, for four people, for £50 for a week.

Perhaps not the most inspiring and health focused recipes, but all the meals in the programme were “from scratch” and each day was nutritionally balanced to reach the recommended five a day fruit and veg, included Fairtrade bananas, British chicken, free range eggs, pole and line caught tuna and made cost effective use of leftovers and clever bulk buying.

The Supermeals 7-day plan has immediately attracted criticism from some as recipes include products like packet cheese sauce which are deemed unhealthy. Shadow Public Health minister Diane Abbott dismissed it as “an advertisement for big business”.

The idea that supermarkets are offering discounts on healthier foods as part of Supermeals and the Change4Life programme is disingenuous to say the least.

Supermarkets would be doing this anyway, as is shown by the New Year price promotions run by Tesco and Morrisons unconnected to Change4Life.

A quick look at the “Supermeals” offers at The Co-op include a £1 bag of sprouts and half price Mullerlight yoghurts. Sprouts is clearly a seasonal deal still running from Christmas rather than a promotion launched specifically for Supermeals, and as for Muller, it is one of the most consistently on promotion grocery products listed in the major supermarkets, so to say that the offer is part of the Change4Life programme is misleading.

The Government has made no secret of the fact that it wants big businesses to help fund and support its health initiatives, and retailers want the kudos of being associated with the Change4Life brand. But all Supermeals does is rehash a version of the supermarket’s marketing initiative under the guise of a public health campaign.

At an event last year, Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King commented that he often wished the Government would leave public health and sustainability campaigning to retailers and brands.

At the time, King said: “Government ads are notoriously poor at changing people’s behaviour on health and sustainability because people don’t trust politicians. I would be delighted if the government would stop advertising and let us do it.”

It’s early days for the campaign, and perhaps it will go on to be successful and the public will respond to it, but to me it illustrates King’s point. Since Sainsbury’s has demonstrated it can independently run a credible, and anecdotally successful, healthy eating promotion to help families eat well, for less, There is no need for Change4Life to replicate it months later and in my view less eloquently.

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