Food and drink is, for many, a source of pleasure as much as a source of nutrition. Food and drink producers are proud of their heritage and world-renowned reputation for quality, safety and innovation.
Leading food and drink manufacturers are taking action to help people towards healthier overall diets. What’s more, health-driven innovation from the food and drink industry is producing results. We have led the world in introducing nutrition information on the front of packs. Our salt reduction work is world-renowned and we have virtually eliminated artificial trans fats. As an industry we came together to support a ban on advertising of high fat, sugars and salt products to under-16s in all media, including online, which comes into place this summer.
There is no question that obesity levels in Scotland and across the UK are unacceptably high. Physical inactivity is a factor, but for many the problem is excess calories in the diet. With many of these calories coming from sugars, we are supporting the UK Government’s highly ambitious sugars reduction drive which launched last week. This work will have a significant impact on many products sold and manufactured in Scotland.
Reformulating products – whether to lower salt, sugars or fats or add fibre – is limited by what is technically possible and what consumers will accept. It’s true that demand for healthier products has sky rocketed in recent years. Shoppers can find everything from “free from” options to food and drinks fortified with vitamins and minerals.
Manufacturers have helped lower salt in the diet by 11 per cent since 2005. Soft drink firms have reduced sugar from their products by 18 per cent in the past five years. Confectionery companies introduced a 250 calorie cap on single serve chocolate confectionery which has led to calorie reductions of between 10-15 per cent.
Following a review of scientific evidence in 2015, which recommended we eat less sugar and more fibre each day, the UK Government and the food industry are now working together to help people get fewer calories from sugars.
Responsible food and drink manufacturers, retailers, restaurants, cafes and takeaways will adapt recipes and take action to encourage consumers towards low and no-sugar options. In some foods, portion reductions will be needed.
While consumer demand for healthier options has never been higher, taste is still the primary driver of purchase. Making changes to a much-loved product carries inherent risks. If the texture or taste of a product changes too much, people may buy a different product, which limits the reach of any potential health benefits made by the change.
Often, changing products gradually over time gives the best chance of consumer acceptance. This involves long-term company commitment and investment as reformulation is as expensive as it is time consuming.
Each function of an ingredient must be considered when seeking to substitute, reduce or increase it in a recipe. Sugar plays many different roles in a recipe. For instance, it gives the rise, colour and texture in a cake as well as adding flavour.
As the purpose of the sugar reduction drive is to help address obesity by lowering calorie intakes, companies must consider the impact of replacing sugars on overall calorie content. For example replacing sugar with a fat at nine calories per gram would more than double the calorie contribution. But there are innovative ways manufacturers can replace sugars. Macphie, an ingredient manufacturer based in Glenbervie, replaced some of the sugar in a muffin mix and frosting with a vegetable fibre – reducing the sugar content by 30 per cent.
Making progress to meet these ambitious goals will require fellow manufacturers, as well as retailers, and restaurant and café owners, to step up and help build and sustain momentum long-term. It also requires government to invest in educating consumers on the value of less sugar in the diet, and accepting smaller portion sizes in some products.
David Thomson, CEO of Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Scotland