The sweeter things


Sugar is a prominent topic in and out of the workplace today. Nutrition expert and account director at Gather & Gather, Kate Taylor, looks into how consumption can change to positively impact well-being




It’s funny how those moments of brilliance, pure innovation and thoughts of genius come to you at the precise time you’d least expect them to. For me it was at my local park, running, when I was thinking of how we could communicate the best way to inform our customers we were moving the pick ‘n’ mix. Yes, that’s right, moving the pick ‘n’ mix. The product that makes up two of the top ten sellers in an outlet we are shortly about to make changes to. I wondered if we would have the same problem in deciding to move the apples or the dried fruit on offer. We are also submitting a communication plan and proposal to change the fruit salad bar – free giveaways, new disposable containers, different price point and a communication pack as well. It’s these two examples that highlight our fear of change as humans.

Quite coincidentally, both of these changes involve the nutrient that is most recently appearing in the news… sugar. Sugar is one of those topics that has created many newspaper headlines recently and no doubt has been raised as an issue by clients and customers of ours for various reasons. However, I doubt any of those enquiries have the right reasoning or understanding behind them and could potentially be just a way to ‘tick a box’. Unless we have nutrition experts to advise us in the right way, we can unknowingly make the wrong decision on how to tackle the white stuff in a workplace environment. Will we be affected by the sugar tax? Should a voluntary tax be implemented sooner and will this change purchasing habits? Does moving confectionery away from till points really impact behaviour change? And when does it become a little too nanny state?

In the UK the top five purchasing categories when it comes to the contribution of sugar consumption are: packet sugar, confectionery, soft drinks, biscuits and cakes and desserts. So while our sugar purchasing habits are slowly declining (1.6% in the last year) on average we are still purchasing 21 grams too much sugar per person than what’s recommended. I would argue that, based on the statistics, there needs to be some intervention on purchasing habits, such as a sugar tax on certain products. But this cannot be implemented without supporting education. I’d question in the current day and age if the end user appreciates that our bodies actually rely on sugar as its prime source of energy. In fact, the body cannot distinguish between natural sugars and sweeteners, due to the fact that the proteins found in both kinds all bind to the same bodily receptors. What we do need to be mindful of is the damage that can be caused to our teeth and that should be one of the take-home messages.



“Does moving confectionery away from till points really impact behaviour change? And when does it become a little too nanny state?”



So how do we bridge the education gap? And can we help by doing this in the workplace? With something as emotive as food (and sugar) it can be achieved quite easily. However, it does require a sustained time period with qualified support. Our nutritionist recently travelled the country supporting our client’s well-being expos with other service providers to educate and inspire our customers to make small changes to improve their diet. In some locations more than 50% of the site population attended the event. Customers also reported back on what they wanted to learn. Key themes were seminars on family health, allergies and Free From food ideas, cooking and recipe ideas, affordable snacks and myth busters on, you guessed it, sugar.

This feedback and level engagement now enables us to ensure the food and beverage provision we supply makes reference to these key themes and we have a captive audience to talk to base on their own feedback. And in terms of price point, in the food industry there is no doubt that we can influence buying habits by making changes. However, freedom of choice will be heavily impacted and, as a nation, does it really send out the right message about eating habits? Depending on the day I’m having I think I’d put up a fight against paying an inflated price for a chocolate brownie instead of an avocado chocolate mousse pot.

Let’s revert back to the pick ‘n’ mix situation: filling a large tub full of lollies – as we call them back home in Australia – with added sugar that will readily attack our teeth. There’s an underlying habit there, the continuous reach back and forth for the next sweet, on and on until there are no more left. In reality the majority of us all go to the pick ‘n’ mix station with the intention to purchase sweets for our team or to share at our desk, however the habit of slowly picking through them on many occasions overrides us.

As human beings we thrive off regularity, routine, the same things, at the same time, day in and day out and when something upsets the apple cart, we don’t know what to do (that’s what’s worrying me about moving the pick n mix). Yet in order for us to make positive changes to affect our lives we need to upset the apple cart and do something different. It’s those small changes, the ability to opt for the small pick ‘n’ mix, to attend the well-being seminar and take ten minutes out and to try to avoid the standard 3pm sweet craving because it happens every day that will make the biggest difference. And behind all these decisions, and us choosing to challenge them sits the focus on better well-being and the link to employee health. The more of us focussing on this message and challenging the norm, the better.

What’s on the agenda this week for the team? A webinar on redressing the balance. There will no doubt be at least one thing we can all take away from it to impact our work life balance, and that’s how it should be.