The seminar was held at DTU with 60-70 participants from industry, government, media and other stakeholders. The programme included presentations from all the workpackages, an invited speaker on the fast food topic and, finally, concluding remarks and discussion (see Newsletter 5 for program details and presentations to the right).
1. What have we learned?
- Fast food with less fat, less processed and more fruit and vegetables and wholegrain were the changes most often wanted by the participants in the Nordic survey.
- One third of the participants in the Nordic survey did not eat fast food because they found it too unhealthy. Health conscious people are a market opportunity.
- Young people served a healthy fast food meal liked it to a similar extend as the unhealthy meal served.
- Taste was mentioned often as a reason to eat fast food. Healthy fast food should taste good and be cheap. Value for money offers on healthy food.
- More flexibility and variation for individual choice could favor healthier fast food. The healthy option should be made the standard and not something special you have to ask for.
- Eating out is increasing: some people will do it if they are offered healthy options, more alternatives are needed.
- Emotions and nostalgia were other important reasons to choose a meal and this should be part of a healthy fast food meal as well. Possibilities for social life with the meal are important.
- Healthy ingredients (e.g. chicken) contributed to high status of a fast food product.
- Specific products suggested by the young people were: soups, fruit and vegetables, more whole grain bread, more fish, more low-fat meat.
- The present market does not offer the consumer a free choice – the unhealthy fast food is the standard.
- Information about the product might be misleading (e.g. Smoothie – a healthy choice?).
- Keeping products fresh (solution: more local products. New Nordic Food).
- The need for corporate responsibility for making healthy fast food from the fast food industry.
2) Points of discussion
Important points of discussion that were raised from the audience:
A journalist from a Danish nationwide newspaper asked about the purpose of the project. The project group explained that the background for the project was an expanding fast food market and that young people want to eat healthier. The project wants to explore how to do changes and listen to the young people’s voice. We want to start a discussion on how do we put all the young people’s interests together.
The journalist raised the dilemma, that the project points to the health oriented group (e.g. especially women) as a target group for the fast food business leaving a potential to expand the market. But this group is probably already healthy. What about the unhealthy group (e.g. young boys)? This “unhealthy” group of low educated young men was also the starting point for the presentation by the guest speaker, Christian Bitz. How do we succeed to get this group interested in more healthy choices?
The project group pointed out that this project should include cooperation between researchers, authorities and fast food industry and therefore also needed to motivate the industry with the possibility of a market. Further, if healthier fast food is available and the choice of an unhealthy alternative is narrowed down, food habits in the unhealthy group might also become healthier. This would be the case, especially if the possibilities for social life are also considered.
Another point raised was that it seemed as if the project group was legitimizing fast food instead of trying to avoid it. According to a participant from Metropolitan University College Copenhagen, fast food and food on the go will never be healthy. Instead it was important to focus on structural solutions and offer healthy meals on institutions of education and workplaces.
The answer from the project group was that they agreed that healthy meals at workplaces and institutions of education were important but the focus of this project was young people’s meals outside these institutions. The purpose of these meals were not only to eat but also to hang out with friends and have fun – and healthy alternatives were needed for these occasions.
This point was also underlined by a participant from The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration who mentioned a survey about young people’s fast food habits, showing that the social aspect was very important. It is much easier to share a box of pommes frites than a green salad. Further, young people when outside home do not want to buy something they can get at home from their parents for free, such as carrots and rye bread. It is part of young people’s breaking free to buy something else – often more unhealthy food.
A participant working with health promotion in a municipality commented that it is difficult to meet the guidelines for healthy food. To include salad in a hot dog is not easy. She suggested that instead the sausage and the bread should be made healthier. It is hard to find healthy meat to reasonable prices. Price and freshness are a huge challenge.
A participant from the The Danish Agriculture & Food Council commented that a low fat sausage (10% fat) had been produced, but it did not sell. In her opinion the choice to “sin” and eat healthy had been made when you decided to buy a hot dog.
This argument was rejected by a participant from the Danish Cancer Society. She doubted that no one would choose the healthy sausage. A smaller survey carried out by the Danish Cancer Society had shown that more declaration about energy content in a fast food meal had influenced consumers’ choice in a more healthy direction. This was the case especially for those with a high BMI.
Some comments were made about the political level. The agricultural policy in EU favoured in many ways the unhealthy products by lower prices. Christian Bitz underlined the responsibility of industry to choose the healthy product and present this for sale. Many choices should not be left to the consumer. The healthy choice should be made a standard. And healthy food is not necessarily more expensive.
A participant from the industry emphasized that health and sustainability are already part of their strategy. Healthy fast food can be cheap, if there are enough customers. But the industry needs to follow market forces.
The project group concluded that the project showed that there might be a market for healthier fast food in the future. But today the consumer really does not have a free choice – the unhealthy choice is the easy choice. In the future it should be the opposite.