The maker of McVitie's Digestives, Hob Nobs and Rich Tea recently announced it had slashed the saturated fat content across these McVitie's brands by 50 per cent.
"We spent over three years in product development to reduce the saturated fat levels, replacing them with unsaturated fats," Alice Cadmen, head of strategic projects at United Biscuits told BakeryandSnacks.com.
Cadmen remained tight-lipped about the new formulations: "I am unable to disclose the absolute ingredients". But she added that the firm has not raised the levels of sugar in the biscuits.
Food manufacturers are facing growing pressure to slice saturated fats, linked to raised cholesterol levels, and in turn a risk factor in cardiovascular disease (CVD), from their formulations.
Earlier this year, the UK's food watchdog launched a £3.5million (€3.8m) public health campaign to raise awareness of the health risks of eating too much saturated fat.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA), that claims consumers are eating 20 per cent more saturated fat than UK government recommendations, is seeking to reduce the nation's intake of saturated fat to below 11 per cent by 2010.
"Diet is a key risk factor in heart disease and it is estimated that cutting our intake of saturated fat could prevent up to 3,500 premature deaths a year, saving the UK economy more than £1 billion a year in related costs," said the agency in February.
Since 2004 the FSA has been working with industry to reformulate foods to reduce the amount of salt they contain, along with communicating the health impacts of a high-salt diet directly to consumers. It is now extending that focus to saturated fat.
But achieving the right reformulation that guards the taste and texture profile for a food makers' brand and reduces the risk of a consumer switching to a competitive brand does not come cheap.
"United Biscuits has injected over £6 million (€6.6m) into the challenge of reformulating their McVitie's biscuit brands," said Cadmen.
Changes to their biscuit formulations also demanded adaptations to existing manufacturing techniques for the biscuits: "We have had to change some of the processes in the factory, and in the production line," added the head of strategic projects.
Sat fat reduction across UB snack portfolio
In parallel to the biscuit reformulations, UB has also invested in efforts to reduce saturated fats across their snack portfolio.
In late 2008 UB announced that by switching to sunflower oil for its popular Hula Hoops snack, the product now contains 80 per cent less saturated fat than in 2005.
Since March 2007 snack brands Skips and Discos "have 50 per cent less saturated fat" and a 30 per cent reduction in sat fats has been achieved for McCoy’s, McCoy’s Specials and McCoy’s Specials Tortillas.
Health and wellness today, and tomorrow
Confirming that health and wellness "is a very important area for United Biscuits", Cadmen declined to detail any specific initiatives due to be undertaken by the firm in the near future.
Although she did add that "our focus will be reducing levels of saturated fats where we can". Further, UB will look into the "wider use of natural flavours" as well as continued efforts to reduce the sodium content across the firm's extensive snack and biscuit portfolio.