The FoodNavigator Podcast: Sugar reformulation part 2: The taste conundrum

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

The FoodNavigator Podcast
The FoodNavigator Podcast

Related tags reformulation sugar reduction

The food industry is under pressure to reformulate products with less sugar. The UK has a voluntary target for manufacturers to meet a 20% cut in sugar by 2020. This is unlikely to be met and campaigners are increasingly demanding that mandatory sugar reformulation targets are set.

How best can the industry respond to this challenge, whilst at the same time responding to the often fickle demands of consumers? This question is particularly pertinent in light of the current COVID-19 crisis, which has accelerated the health concerns of shoppers keen to find foods that boost their immune systems.

Paddy Willis is CEO of Mission Ventures, the start-up incubator whose projects include a scheme that targets reduction in childhood obesity via healthy snacking. Another of his brands is JimJams, a chocolate spread that boasts 83% less sugar than its rivals. He says two-thirds of people in Europe are looking to reduce their sugar intake, but are currently dissatisfied with what’s on the market.

He contends that agile challenger brands are best placed to quickly respond to this demand. Consumers, he says, would rather have a 'little of something naughty' than a lot of something that isn’t that exciting. Sugar substitutes, such as maltitol, offer an excellent way to tap into demand, he says. But are consumers prepared to pay a premium for these products from smaller challenger brands?

Others take a different view, however. Andy Blaxendale, aka the ‘sweet consultant’, who advises the confectionery industry on many matters, including reformulation, doesn’t think reformulation is worth approaching at all.

Sugar alternative ingredients simply don’t taste good enough, he reckons. Meanwhile attempts to cut sugar by reducing the packaging size and not the price -- or so-called ‘shrinkflation’ -- simply leave a sour taste in the mouths of consumers​. He thinks we should get back to basics. Instead of the obsession with reformatting products, we should teach people to regard sugary items as treats that shouldn’t be eaten every day.  

Part if this, he believes, is down to budget cuts resulting in schools no longer monitoring kids’ food intake at school and family cookery classes stopping.

But Rend Platings, the CEO of Sugarwise, the international certification authority for sugar claims on food and drink, says consumers should not be -- and are not -- put off by sugar substitutes. Swiss brand Red Chocolate, for example, uses erythritol, polydextrose, stevia and maltitol to dramatically reduce the calories, fats and sugar compared to conventional products and tastes better than the real thing, she notes.

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