Reformulation of products along healthier lines is billed as part of the struggle against obesity, along with increased physical activity and education efforts. But reducing sugar or fat in products presents challenges to manufacturers, as these nutrients perform functional roles in products beyond just making them taste good. For instance, they can play a role in texture and preservation.
The FSA’s strategy has been to engage with the food industry over the efforts it can make, and try to take into consideration factors that can limit the scope of reformulation and impacts. Since publishing its draft recommendations last year, it has received some 58 responses from stakeholders, many of which hail from industry.
In its final form, the recommendations include a reduction in the size of individual soft drinks packs to 250ml by the end of 2015; a standard drinks can is 330ml. It says block chocolate products should be readily available in single portion packs of 40g or less by the end of 2012, and chocolate confectionery in packs of less than 50g.
Meanwhile, high sugar drinks should reduce added sugar by 4 per cent of 2008 levels by the end of 2012.
Chocolate confectionery, plain sweet and savoury biscuits, and plain cakes should have saturated fat reduced by 10 per cent on 2008 levels; and non-plain biscuits without chocolate, chocolate biscuits and non-plain cakes should have saturated fat reduced by 5 per cent.
For doughnuts and other fried buns, the recommendation is to switch to lower saturated fat products.
The FSA does give a nod to the technical difficulties of reducing sugar and fat levels. In several categories it says the lower sugar or saturated fat levels should be accompanied by lower calories, unless this is not technically possible. In some cases, the sugar/fat has to be replaced by more than one other ingredients so as not to lose functionality, and this can up the calorie load.
Other impacts that have been recognised include the impacts on small businesses, which may not be in a strong enough financial position to reformulate their ranges.
“We encourage these businesses to take action to consider what improvements are possible to the nutrient profile of their products and to provide a wider availability of smaller portion sizes, to implement such changes where possible and discuss these with the Agency,” the FSA said.
In its response to the FSA, the Food and Drink Federation said it is pleased that the efforts of the industry to reformulate so far have been recognised.
“Our members have been rising to this particular challenge for a number of years – and are now leading the world when it comes to developing new products and refreshing old favourites,” said communications director Julian Hunt. “We are pleased that the Food Standards Agency has recognised the successful work undertaken by food companies and the complexities involved with further reformulation efforts."
The recommendations relate to the mainstream versions of products, not side ranges designed to have less fat or sugar.
The FSA decided to start its work with products that could have the most effect on public health. More recommendations, on meat and dairy, pastry and savoury snacks, are expected to follow this summer.