The seven year study co-authored by the FDII and analysts Creme Global reveals significant reductions in fat, saturated fat, sugar, salt and calories achieved through voluntary reformulation.
The report, supported by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), used data on 600 products from 14 of Ireland’s major food and drink companies and found:
· Salt content was reduced by 37%
· Sugar content fell by 14%
· The amount of energy (as measured in calories) fell by 12%
· Both total fat and saturated fat intake were reduced by approximately 10%
The 14 major consumer food and drink companies who participated in the study will now provide reformulation data for the period 2013 to 2015. This will be the basis of another report which will be published next year to allow trend analysis and better informed business and policy decisions in the future.
The impact of shifts in consumer intake
Conor McGauran, project lead at Creme Global, said the most important finding of the report was the fact that it had proven that is possible to successfully quantify industry efforts at reformulation.
He said: “This has never been done before. There have been individual findings on nutrients but, as an overall finding, we now know that it is possible to quantify the efforts of industry and assess the impact of shifts in consumer intake of five key nutrients. That’s the key finding: it can be done.”
McGauran, who worked closely with Creme Global’s Scientific Lead on the project, Sandrine Pigat, also underlined the fact that the report had identified a substantial decrease in the population’s intake of salt.
He said: “With regards to the other key findings, it’s very important that you look at the type of consumers and the actual nutrients themselves. There’s been huge success in sodium intake adoption. That’s one of the key findings. That’s down to the fact that the FSAI has come together with the industry sector in looking at reducing the amount of salt in foods and that’s had a direct impact on sodium intake.”
Reformulation is a complex area
Paul Kelly, director of Food and Drink Industry Ireland (FDII) told FoodNavigator: “Food and drink companies have made massive efforts to reduce fat, saturated fat, sugar, salt and calories and will continue to do so in future but reformulation is a complex area.
“The challenges faced by industry differ by product category and by nutrient and progress varies across Europe driven by factors such as national initiatives, local consumer preferences and local diets. The focus needs to be on encouraging and facilitating further reformulation whilst taking account of these challenges rather than blanket targets.”
Kelly added: “There is a strong ongoing commitment to reformulation across Europe. Our project was unique it that it was the first time that reformulation was measured as regards impact on the dietary intake of an entire population.
“From an industry and a public health perspective, it provides valuable insights on the progress being made in product reformulations and importantly on the positive impact it has had and will continue to have on the nation's diet and health.”
The secret to successful reformulation? Innovation
Kelly said food companies face a range of obstacles when changing the recipes of some of Ireland’s most popular foods and beverages, including consumer acceptance and maintaining the product functionality given by various nutrients.
He added: “Innovation, which includes the introduction of new products/variants, is central to food industry development and will be key to addressing these challenges, particularly for SME food companies.”
‘A brilliant starting point’
But McGauran, who is a returning delegate at Food Vision, a leadership forum for the nutrition industry that will be held in Cannes next month, said he was confident the report could pave the way for greater advances in reformulation on a European level.
He said: “Using this report as a backdrop, I think it will encourage companies to provide data on their reformulation efforts so far. When they look at who the beneficiaries are in the population, it will also help them get a better insight into where they should reformulate in the future.
“This type of analysis strengthens the case for unilateral collaboration from all stake-holders, including industry. One company trying to quantify their reformulation efforts on their own doesn’t make an impact on peoples diets, regardless of their market share in their sectors. It’s when they combine the data from those efforts that you start to see what the actual shifts are in the consumer intake of these nutrients. I think the real opportunity is for people at a European level to try and come together. This is a brilliant starting point.”
Interested in finding out more? Meet Conor at Food Vision, the leadership forum for the nutrition industry. Food Vision, 2-4 March, Cannes France. http://www.foodvisionevent.com/