As recently as the mid-2000s, the term ‘ultra-processed foods’ – or UPFs – was only just starting to enter into public lexicon. Fast forward fifteen years, and these highly manufactured goods account for a huge percentage of all the food consumed within the UK.
For the average person in the UK now, about half of the calories they intake are made up of ultra-processed foods. This means a significant portion of a person’s energy intake consists only of these foods, that largely contain high levels of salt, sugar and saturated fats and are wholly devoid of the natural and healthy nutrients we need.
Typically, ultra-processed foods may contain four or five core ingredients and these are made up of additives such as preservatives, emulsifiers, sweeteners, artificial colours and flavours.
Some examples of these foods include: ice cream, ham, sausages, crisps, mass-produced bread, breakfast cereals, instant soups, fruit-flavoured yoghurts and carbonated drinks.
The prominence of ultra-processed foods has risen meteorically, and are synonymous with the rise in popularity of junk and fast foods. A marriage of convenience, that naturally has gained credence in a world where we’re constantly being squeezed for time and these options present themselves as a logical solution.
Yet with this rise, has come increasing concern over the impacts on the human body and the overall health of the public and this had led to growing amounts of studies and research being conducted to this end.
This escalating scrutinisation unequivocally points one way – that ultra-processed foods can be extremely harmful to us. There is a plethora of evidence linking UPF to increases in cancer, heart disease, strokes and dementia to name a few.
As it stands today, reliance on food products that are ultra-processed is deep-rooted into modern society. Manufacturers produce these at a fraction of the cost of more nutritional, organic foods and can turn over far more in much less time. Efficiency is a key cog in the pillar of profitability, which more often than not is the bottom line – this is business, after all.
Supermarkets these days, where the majority of the population source the foods that comprise what we all eat throughout our lifetimes, are rife with UPFs. Fast-food establishments share this sentiment, and while both are able to appease our appetites for convenience, consideration beyond that wanes.
Aligned with the aforementioned raft of studies being published that are conclusively touting the science behind the danger of UPFs, the long running successful marketing strategies a lot of these monolithic corporations employ that are heavily boiled in small-print and asterisks are starting to wash thin. Whereas these companies can bombard with heavily funded advertising budgets and stick to their front lines, regardless of how truthful they actually are, the independent sector has always been synonymous with accountability.
That translates to transparency, and is one of the many strengths of the sector, that the majority of caterers are individuals, or often family run businesses that thrive on their honesty, in particular when it comes to their offerings and obviously the ingredients they use.
As the nation becomes more conscious about the contents of what we are actually eating, we look to make more informed choices in line with the prevalence of sustainability, a growing factor in modern purchasing choices. As so often is the case, the independent hospitality sector stands at the forefront of innovation, leading the curve and we are seeing a growing trend among the sector that is aiming to break this ingrained reliance on ultra-processed foods.
Consumers want to feel they are making responsible decisions when it comes to where they spend their money and ultimately give their investments. And businesses are well placed to serve that need, without looking solely through the lens of greed.
Many independent food and drink businesses are championing an organic first approach, looking to use local produce wherever possible. This acts to assure consumers of the quality and nutrition of the food and drinks they purchase, but also is a huge positive on the sustainability front, meaning they are a far more attractive proposition for any customer.
Of course, people will always be price conscious when it comes to their purchasing decisions. Fast-food establishments that are built on the pedestal of convenience will always retain customers who value this and the lower costs, but the inherent question that needs to be asked is ‘what is the true cost of low cost food?’ And this is exactly what people are asking themselves more. Is it worthwhile saving some money on a dinner purchase, if it’s at a potentially sizeable detriment to one’s health and could incur unwanted problems in life?
Or does it make a lot more sense to spend a bit more by buying food from an independent business operating organically, where you can be sure that not only is what you’re eating appeasing to the tastebuds the same way preservative-laden ultra-processed food is, but it’s also providing the nutritious intake your body needs to function healthily?
Not only is an approach like this a great pillar for the marketing angle of an independent business – to state with honesty that they are using organic produce – but in ethical terms it is admirable. In a such a highly people-centric sector, this is huge and translates really well. As with any trend, the more businesses that embrace this, the more a trickle can grow into an unavoidable wave and bring about real positive change.
With this, the independent sector can help to cut through the matrix of ultra-processed, simulated experiences that have become far too much of our reality these days – and in doing so lead the light into healthier and more sustainable eating options becoming much more commonplace in the wider hospitality industry.
Find more articles featured in Issue 50 of the NCASS Member’s Magazine here.