I am often asked why I took on the role of CEO at Luvo. I can tell you that I made the decision when I was standing in the grocery store looking for products that met a set of pretty basic nutritional guidelines. My mum has suffered from diabetes for over 20 years and as a complication of her illness had lost her leg, dad was going to be picking up more of the household duties including meal prep so I was helping him to look for some easy and nutritious solutions. Despite the various labels that included words like ‘healthy’, ‘natural’ and ‘wholesome’ I couldn’t find a single product that fit the bill.
How could that be? From the post-Second World War era with the introduction of the TV dinner , we have seen food companies shift from heavily processed and nutritionally valueless offerings, to niche products that cater to the latest fads from fat-free to gluten-free but somehow the industry seemed to have missed the most basic of needs — balanced nutrition.
There is no disputing that we all need good nutrition. Recent studies show that while on average Canadians consume more than enough daily calories, many are malnourished due to their nutrient-low diet. Much of the population is not meeting fruits and vegetable and whole grain recommendations, yet they are exceeding targets for both sugar and sodium. The cost of an adequate diet to us as a society is immeasurable in health care dollars with the majority of these funds being spent on preventable conditions including diabetes and obesity.
These particular facts really hit home with me: approximately 5,200 people in North America are diagnosed with Type II Diabetes every 24 hours (Centers for Disease Control 2011 Fact sheet). According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, in Canada 60,000 people per year, or roughly 7 people every hour of every day are diagnosed with diabetes. Unless action is taken now, one in three people will be living with diabetes or pre-diabetes by the end of this decade.
The important nutritional choices Canadians confront each day are complex, and they are further complicated by budgets and time. It would be wonderful if we could all harvest from our backyard gardens to cook our meals, however that is just not a reality. Our busy lives demand convenience and meeting this demand should not be at the cost of our health.
Consumers are seeking well-balanced and nutritious meals. They are no longer just looking for convenient food or diet meals; they’re looking for real ingredients that pack the nutrition their body needs. It is not only reasonable, but important to demand food with nutritional value — and reject the empty calories and poor health outcomes that come from too much added sugars, sodium and artificial ingredients in our processed foods. However, consumers will not have full access to choice without transparency and education. There is a clear market opportunity here but we must also take the initiative to reduce the complexity and confusion that as an industry we have created over the past 70 years with the help of our partners in marketing and advertising.
While consumers are increasingly “food label literate,” you almost have to be a nutritionist to figure out what really is the nutritious offering and what sugar and sodium bombs are hidden under the healthy sounding labels. For example, there is a growing awareness that natural is not always the same as nutritious. Natural foods can still be high in sugar and refined grains. In contrast nutritious foods focus on fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins.
We know that better health comes from nutrition and balance. While I came to this company because I was looking for a solution for my dad — I have stayed because I know it is possible to disrupt an industry that has put profits ahead of health outcomes. It’s time we spark change in kitchens and grocery stores around the world, and promote a nutrition-fuelled lifestyle that doesn’t sacrifice convenience or taste.
Christine Day is CEO of Luvo.