Green light for simple food labelling
Colour-coding helps you count the kilojoules
PIETER ROSSOUW, co-founder of The Health Robot, says after three years of laying the foundation, the company’s product will soon hit the market. “It’s been a question of building trust and establishing our credibility – as is the case with most innovative ideas, there’s a natural resistance from companies to be the first to take the plunge. Now that we have letters of intent from major retailers and food manufacturers, it’s a go.”
The Health Robot provides at-a-glance nutritional information – including fat, sugar, fibre and sodium levels and kilojoule counts – on food packaging. Green means eat freely, orange, eat moderately and red, eat cautiously. “In places like SA, where literacy, combined with undernourishment and obesity, remains a problem, easy-tounderstand nutritional information is key,” says Rossouw.
Initial funding for the product was a stroke of luck, he says. In a meeting with law firm, Izak Minnie Inc, about patents and trademarks, Minnie was so impressed with the idea that he became the major investor. “The past three years have been a tough slog,” says Rossouw. “Co-founder Bruce Walker and I literally talked to everyone in the industry. Initially our ‘angle’ to get the food companies on board was more one of social responsibility, of doing the right thing by helping South Africans to eat more healthily. Although education and health awareness are an important part of our system, it was a mistake to sell our product in this way.”
Rossouw changed course after consulting one of SA’s top brand strategists, and says his biggest mistake was not having done this sooner. “I could have cut development time in half. The breakthrough came when we started concentrating on the marketing benefits of traffic-light food labelling for supermarket chains and food manufacturers.”
The UK, with the backing of its Food Standards Authority, has adopted a similar system, and already big supermarket chains such as Sainsbury’s, with number two retailer Asda to follow later this year, and food companies like McCain, are promoting their products in this way. “Given the experience in Britain, we can now go to local companies with concrete sales and marketing data.” Once introduced, consumers readily switched to the healthier versions. Sales of the unhealthy or ‘indulgent’ product fell by 40%, but the healthy option shot up 140%.
The Health Robot’s scientific advisers include the head of Human Nutrition at Stellenbosch University, the chief specialist in Chronic Diseases of Lifestyle at the Medical Research Council and various other experts. Two dieticians also serve on its board.
The Health Robot charges a licence fee of 0,1% of turnover up to a maximum of R500 000 per brand. The Health Robot will spend 75% of this income on educational programmes at schools, among others. “We’re targeting R15m-R18m this year, with projected growth of roughly double that in the future.