10 June 2021 / Company
Shareholders pressure Morrisons to up healthy food targets
By Natasha Turner
Investors send letter to supermarket chair ahead of AGM
NEST and JO Hambro Capital Management are among seven institutional investors representing $1.1trn that have written to Morrisons’ chair Andrew Higginson to request the supermarket up its sales of healthy food and drink ahead of its AGM today.
In a letter from ShareAction CEO Catherine Howarth, shareholders asked Morrisons to disclose the share of total food and non-alcoholic drink sales by volume made up of healthier products, and publish a long-term target and a strategy to significantly increase that share in its annual reports. It also asked for a description of progress in delivering your targets and strategic commitments.
The letter recognised Morrisons’ engagement with ShareAction’s Healthy Markets investor coalition, its targets for 65% of its own-brand products to be healthier by 2025 and the fact it is making its products affordable for its customers.
But it said “encouraging healthy diets is also Morrisons’ area of weakest performance across major environmental and social topics according to the Food Foundation.”
Ignacio Vazquez, senior manager at ShareAction added: “Investors want to better understand how supermarkets are taking responsibility for their enormous influence on public health. This means targeting greater sales of healthier products – not just the number of products – and applying these targets to all products, not just their own-brand ranges.”
He said: “We are pleased to be joined by investors today in calling on the company to follow other major listed UK supermarkets in disclosing and committing to grow the proportion of its sales made of healthier food and drink products. We hope Morrisons’ board will grasp this opportunity to build on its social responsibility credentials while also demonstrating to its shareholders that it is appropriately managing the rising financial risks and opportunities in this area.”
A spokesperson for Morrisons said: “We are committed to helping our customers make healthier choices and we are supportive of measuring performance and setting meaningful targets. We already publish the proportion of our own brand products, which are classed as healthy, and have a commitment to increase this.”
Representing 10% of the British grocery market, Morrisons is one of the largest supermarket companies publicly listed on the London Stock Exchange, along with Tesco and Sainsbury’s. Morrisons is the only one of the three yet to set sales-based health targets as requested by the investor letter. Tesco recently set similar targets when an investor coalition filed the UK’s first ever shareholder resolution on health issues at a supermarket.
Morrisons scored just 20% for its performance on health issues in a recent report by the Access to Nutrition Initiative, lagging behind rivals Sainsbury’s (35%), Marks & Spencer (33%), Co-op (30%), Tesco (30%) and Lidl (25%). The report assessed supermarkets’ public commitments and actions on issues such as nutrient profiling, product formulation, responsible marketing and labelling.