*Geek Box: The ‘Nutrition Transition’
‘Nutrition transition’ has become the term for the rapid changes in the food environment and dietary intakes in low-middle income or rising economic countries. This transition is driven by global transnational food and beverage corporations [TFBCs], who penetrate these emerging markets and alter the environment in retail and manufacturing, while expanding the fast food sector. This transition is possible, and in part explained, by rising incomes, increasing urbanisation, and a changing labour market.
TFBCs have the capacity to dramatically alter the food supply and local food systems, and the dominant characteristic from a dietary perspective of this transition is a dramatic increase in the consumption of ultra-processed foods [UPFs] and sugar-sweetened beverages [SSBs]. Often, local cultural sensitivities are taken into account, to penetrate the market. For example, because chicken is a more popular meat than beef amongst consumers in China, KFC is more successful than McDonalds.
Another characteristic of the nutrition transition is altering the food retail environment, by converting previous retail outlets into a food retail component. For example, in many Asian countries petrol stations are just that – petrol stations – but under TFBC partnerships are often turned into foodcourts that we would be accustomed to at any Shell station in the West. It is interesting to note that research has indicated a pattern to market penetration, beginning with SSBs, which are the easiest product to achieve rapidly rising sales with, before moving in with UFPs outlets. ‘Glocalisation’ – a process where global food products are given a local marketing spin and appeal, allows for UPF products to be adapted to local customs.
The nutrition transition has profound consequences for global health, and planetary health, and the lack of appropriate regulatory frameworks in many of these countries means that TFBC are able to become well-established and precipitate dramatic shifts in the local food supply and dietary intake.