Corporate Social Responsibility
: Rhetoric or Reality - Nutrition and UK Food Manufacturers

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The Covid-19 pandemic has brought to the government’s attention the issues of diet, obesity, health and resilience more forcefully than any other attempt to do so. As the country emerges from the worst of the pandemic, the publication of the Dimbleby report “National Food Strategy” (2021) is a timely reminder of the link between diet and health.

It has been known for many years that poor diet, particularly the consumption of ultra-processed foods, can lead to the development of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and a number of cancers (Popkin 2006). The change in food consumption has been rapid, only 26% of food purchased in 1980 was ultra-processed, this rose to 44% in 2000 and 57% by 2021 (BBC 2021). This research considers the safety and stewardship of the food supply in the UK and its impact on the health and resilience of the public. The specific aim was to explore the veracity of what UK food manufacturers claim about the nutritional quality of the food they produce.

This research investigates the food industry's expressed attitudes on nutrition and the content of their products. The research also analyses the nutrition messages on company websites and in CSR reports as well as interviews with both large and small food manufacturers. A comparison of the content of branded and supermarket products is presented to identify differences in key nutrients.

One of the most significant findings of the research relates to the considerable difficulty in obtaining access to the food industry for the collection of primary data through interviews and questionnaires. Despite lengthy and persistent attempts to access food manufacturers, only a limited number of participants were prepared to engage with the research.

The findings of a detailed analysis of primary data obtained from a very large sample of product labels suggest that food manufacturers in the UK have done little to improve the nutritional quality of their products over the years. Using the typology developed by Delmas and Burbano (2011) there is evidence of ‘greenwash’ from some companies, with others being classed as ‘silent brown firms’.

The research concludes that if the government wishes to improve the diet and health of the nation, they need to do so through regulation and legislation rather than rely on the manufacturers’ discretion. This thesis is one of the first studies to examine the decisions made by food companies about the presentation of the nutritional content of their products as a key component of their corporate and social responsibility. It opens a new and potentially fertile research agenda in the field of company reporting and accountability.
Date of Award26 Apr 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Winchester
SupervisorNeil Marriott (Supervisor), Adam Palmer (Supervisor) & John Richardson (Supervisor)


  • CSR
  • Nutrition
  • Greenwash

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