When you provide consumers with great choices in the marketplace, it turns out they really do go for the more nutritious option. 

Four years ago, 16 leading food and beverage manufacturing companies, which comprise the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF), made a pledge to First Lady Michelle Obama that they would remove 1.5 trillion calories from the marketplace by 2015.  What happened next was extraordinary.  The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced in January that the companies quadrupled that goal by removing 6.4 trillion calories from the marketplace by the end of 2012, three years ahead of schedule.  On average, that achievement equals a reduction of 78 calories per day, per person in the United States.

So how did they do it? In 2007, the base year for the pledge, Americans consumed over 60 trillion calories. Food and beverage companies, including many leading companies that manufacture dairy products, recognized the need to address the problem of obesity. That is why they formed the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, which has now grown to more than 250 companies, retailers, associations and non profits.

From the outset, the companies involved said they would develop new low-calorie options, change the recipe of existing products to reduce calories and introduce portion-controlled packages. Just consider some examples of products that have made a big difference in helping Americans to eat a more healthful diet.

Nestlé, for example, developed a new, proprietary technology to make what it calls “Slow Churned” Edy’s and Dreyer’s ice creams. The company was able to make an ice cream with half the fat and one third the calories by developing a new process for making ice cream. And the company is now selling almost as much of the Slow Churned ice cream as it does the full-fat ice cream varieties.

Nestlé has also launched Skinny Cow, a brand that includes frozen low-fat dairy snacks that offer a lighter, yet still delicious treat. 

General Mills and PepsiCo introduced new fat-free and low-fat yogurt products, including the increasingly popular Greek yogurt. The 100-calorie Yoplait Greek 100 from General Mills, for example, reached $150 million in year-one retail sales, making it the single largest new product launch for Yoplait in 20 years. PepsiCo’s Müller Quaker Dairy introduced low-fat conventional and Greek yogurts ranging  from 140 to 220 calories per serving.

The success of these new, revised or expanded product lines points to what some may regard as a surprising fact about this corporate initiative to reduce obesity. Research has shown that reduced calorie foods and beverages also drive improved financial performance. They aren’t just better for Americans’ health and waistline — they also benefit corporate health and the bottom line. According to a Hudson Institute study, lower-calorie products drove 82% of the sales growth among the HWCF member CPG companies studied, over four times the rate of higher-calorie products.

 Of course, we need to keep in mind that reduced calorie consumption is only part of the solution to America’s obesity problem. In addition to the number of calories Americans take in, we must also expend more through physical activity. But the consumption side of the coin is crucial. The success of the calorie-reduction initiative of the food and beverage manufacturing companies in HWCF demonstrates that success is not only possible, but increasingly likely through focused commitment to improving the health of the nation. 

Dairy Foods seeks essays from dairy processors. Contact carperj@dairyfoods.com.