UK food watchdog encouraging reformulation, portion size reduction

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 29th July 2009

The UK Food Standards Agency last night outlined plans to consult on the prospect of voluntary recommendations for reducing added sugar and saturated fat in food products. The Agency is also hoping to increase availability of smaller single-portion sizes in a number of key foods – biscuits, cakes, pastries, buns, confectionery and soft drinks, and encouraging greater marketing spend on healthier options.

“The Agency’s work to encourage industry to reformulate and reduce portion sizes will focus on those foods that will help deliver real public health benefits,” the food standards body advised. “We are also asking industry to prioritise making reductions in their biggest selling products for maximum impact. The first phase of this work will focus on various sweet foods and treats. Later in the year there will be further consultation on dairy and meat products and savoury snacks.”

Gill Fine, Director of Consumer Choice and Dietary Health at the FSA, said the Agency had welcomed recent commitments by industry, which have included a heavy reduction in salt and trans fats.

“We recognise the excellent work already achieved by some food businesses to make healthier eating easier,” she acknowledged. “But to make even greater progress it’s important that everybody gets behind our recommendations on saturated fat, added sugar and portion sizes.”

“The food industry regularly reviews its ingredients and processes, as well as portion sizes, and the aim of this proposal is to encourage them to consider how they can play their part in improving public health and helping consumers to maintain a healthy weight.”

In February 2008 the Agency published its Saturated Fat and Energy Intake Programme, which outlined four areas for action:

* improving consumer awareness and understanding of healthy eating with particular focus on the impact of saturated fat on health
* encouraging promotion and uptake of healthier options
* encouraging accessibility of smaller food portion sizes
* encouraging voluntary reformulation of mainstream products to reduce saturated fat and energy

Julian Hunt, Director of Communications for industry representative the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), said they were keen to continue making strides toward providing healthier food, but warned that reformulation would take time.
“Our sector’s world-class capabilities in research and development have allowed us to tackle the complex task of changing the recipes of much-loved British brands without compromising on quality or taste,” he suggested. “Data from independent consultancy Mintel compiled for a new FDF report shows that more than 700 products have been launched with new recipes since January 2007 – the equivalent of nine a week. Mintel’s research also suggests that total sales of healthier eating options in key food and drink categories are now worth £8bn – and in some areas are growing at twice the rate of the market as a whole.”

“But there are very significant technical, financial and consumer challenges that companies have to overcome with every new recipe development, and policy makers need to be realistic about the pace at which our members can be expected to keep delivering new innovations – particularly in the current recession.”

Once the consultation is complete, comments will be taken into account and a summary of responses will be published. It is anticipated that the final recommendations will be published by the end of the year.