UK challenges drinking yoghurt industry to cut sugar by 20%

By Flora Southey contact

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/puhhha)
(Image: Getty/puhhha)

Related tags: Fermentation, Yoghurt, Dairy

Manufacturers and retailers of sweetened fermented yoghurt drinks are the focus of Public Health England’s most recent guidance, which incites a 20% reduction of added sugar by 2021.

Public Health England (PHE), the body that advises the British government on public health policy for all of the UK, has expanded its sugar reduction guidelines to include sweetened fermented yoghurt drinks.

The category covers drinking yoghurt, kefirs, lassis, drinks with disease risk-reducing claims, including plant stanols and sterols, and pre and probiotics drinks, including those with functional health claims.

According to the voluntary guidelines​, all players in this category, including retailers, manufacturers, and businesses that provide drinks for consumers out of the home, are encouraged to reduce added sugar content by 20% over the next three years.

This can be attained by changing recipes, reducing the number of calories in a single portion size, and by encouraging consumers to opt for products with low or no added sugar.

“Industry is encouraged to focus sugar reduction for the top-selling products in the fermented (yoghurt) drinks category and/or reduce their portion size,” ​wrote PHE in the guidance.

“This will drive a reduction in sugar and calorie intakes as these products are consumed more regularly and contribute more sugar and calories to the diet.”

Public Health England will monitor industry progress in September of this year, with progress reports to be published annually between 2020 until 2022.

A natural allowance

Plain and unsweetened yoghurt drinks have been exempt from the guidance, and PHE has made an allowance for naturally occurring sugar.

This accounts for a lactose content (the sugar naturally found in milk) of 3.8 g per 100 ml of fermented yoghurt drink. The sales weighted average (SWA) total sugar guidelines is therefore based on a 20% reduction of the added sugar content, rather than 20% of total sugar.

With regard to maximum calorie intake, the PHE recommends the total number consumed on a single occasion be set at 300 calories by 2021.

Source: Public Health England

Action on Sugar welcomes guidance

Poor diet and nutrition are recognised as major contributory risk factors for ill health and premature death in the UK, which reports an adult obesity level of 27%.

The PHE’s supplementary recommendations have therefore been welcomed by nutrition-focused charity Action on Sugar. “We are pleased to see the publication of this report on yoghurt drinks,” ​Action on Sugar nutritionist Kawther Hashem told FoodNavigator.

“This is because this category of drink is in growth and ensuring there are no increases in the levels of sugar in products is vital.”

The bigger picture

The supplementary report forms part of PHE’s recommendations to the food industry to cut sugar in 10 categories by 20% by 2020.

Fermented drinking products is recognised as a sub category within the yoghurts and fromage frais sector of the reformulation programme, which also targets breakfast cereals; biscuits; cakes; morning goods; puddings; ice creams, lollies and sorbets; confectionery and sweet spreads.

When PHE launched the recommendations in 2016, it told industry it wanted to see a 5% reduction by the end of the first year.

The report tracking industry's progress during that first year, published in May 2018, revealed varying results​. Compared to the baseline year (2015), yoghurt and fromage frais product had reduced sugar by 6%, and manufacturers of breakfast cereals and sweet spreads had cut added sugar by 5%.

Given the industry’s hard work and successes in reducing the sugar in the yogurt and fromage frais category, the industry is well placed to action these sugar reduction targets for yogurt drinks. We are an industry characterised by innovation and confident that we can offer consumers the healthy and nutritious products they want - ​Judith Bryans, Dairy UK 

However, industry had fallen short on sugar reduction targets in certain categories. In the biscuits and chocolate confectionery, for example, no change in sugar levels was recorded. Sweet confectionary reduced sugar content by just 1%, while added sugar levels in puddings increased by 1%.

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