I invited Holland and Barrett and Julian Graves to comment on the Sugar Pushers post, which Julian Graves duly did here, although their amateurish reasoning failed to hold up to scrutiny.
Since then, there has been big news in the UK health food sector – it seems that NBTY Europe Limited, the parent company of Holland and Barrett, has bought Julian Graves. I also learn from the Holland and Barrett web site that the Holland and Barrett Group owns 31 GNC stores in Europe. Confused? Me too – but the good news is this: from now I can channel my indignation in a single direction.
Holland and Barrett RespondAlthough Holland and Barrett never did respond to my original request for comments, I have since written a separate email to their customer services department in which I outlined my concerns without referring to the Sugar Pushers post.
Here’s what I said:
I am interested to understand why Holland and Barrett sells products with significant amounts of sugar in (for example, yogurt coated nuts and raisins), when sugar is something that has been shown to be unhealthy. Since you describe yourself on your web site's About Us page as 'the UK's largest health food retailer' there appears to be an inconsistency.
Please explain - are the sugary products actually healthy, or are you in fact selling unhealthy products even though you claim to be a health food retailer?
Here is the response I received this week:
Thank you for your message
I am sorry to learn of your concerns regarding some of our snack products.
As you will appreciate a yoghurt covered product will have to have a certain amount of sugar added to form the coating and to aid in the overall taste of the product. However the total sugars declared include the natural sugar within the fruit and dried fruit have a high concentration of natural sugar per weight.
If eaten as part of a balanced diet there is no health issue eating these types of snacks. Sugar is required for energy so the product would be appropriate for people who wish to take them for a snack if they are walking or exercising or just as a boost when they feel the need in between meals.
We strive to cater for a wide range of customer needs and requirements and all ingredients are listed so customers can make an informed choice as to which product would be most appropriate for their needs. We also stock a range of dried fruit and nuts without coatings and added sugar.
Customer comments and opinions are welcome and we value feedback regarding our products.
Pulling the Threads TogetherThere follows an open letter to Barry Vickers, Holland and Barrett CEO, in which I pull together the threads from the Julian Graves correspondence, the Holland and Barrett customer services response above and the fact that they also own GNC. I will email Mr Vickers and my other correspondents, drawing their attention to the letter.
Dear Mr Vickers,
Having recently learned of Holland and Barrett’s acquisition of Julian Graves and that you already own a number of GNC stores in Europe, I would like to express my concern about the way you market certain foods in your stores. For background, as well as the correspondence with Holland and Barrett above you may wish to read my original post on the subject here, and the published correspondence with Julian Graves here.
To keep this simple, I will re-state my central concern here. It is that your stores position themselves as health food retailers, yet sell unhealthy foods alongside healthy foods. For example, yogurt coated nuts, the name of which fails to indicate the significant quantities of refined sugar in the coating. By doing this you are exploiting the desire of consumers to believe they are being healthy whilst preying on their weakness for food containing refined sugar.
I could deal with the response from your customer services representative point-by-point, but the points scarcely warrant attention, as I am sure you will appreciate when you read it.
Instead, I will deal with the one point that repeatedly comes back from your customer services people. To paraphrase:
If consumers exercise moderation and consume these foods as part of a balanced diet, there is no health issue.
My response is this: including unhealthy additives in your food, then expecting consumers to moderate their consumption and tailor their lifestyle to ensure they do not harm themselves is not the kind of approach you would expect from a company whose strap line is 'Health Foods and Natural Remedies.' Would it seem odd to you if a fitness instructor included in your exercise program the occasional and moderate use of recreational drugs, assuring you that provided you follow an otherwise healthy lifestyle there would be no impact on health?
Sugar is unhealthy – there is evidence for this. You are a health food retailer and you are selling unhealthy food. Please explain how you can justify this.
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