Companies speak: reformulation, health claims, functional foods

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 14th April 2011

This year’s Food and Drink Innovation Dialogue, held in the UK town of Windsor this week, has heard what factors are affecting NPD in our sector. The likes of Heinz, United Biscuits, Baxters Food Group and Mead Johnson Nutrition have headed to the event to discuss issues including reformulation and the EU health claims legislation. Here are some of the more notable soundbites.

Innovation and Reformulation

“What work can be done to look at the influence of reformulation? Satisfying the legislation is one aspect but actually proving that that then delivers an improvement in public health would also be an extremely beneficial outcome” – Roger Leech, open innovation portfolio and scouting director, Unilever.

“I don’t think, unless we were very involved with consumers in terms of them trusting us to use them as guinea pigs, that a single company could reach these answers. Perhaps it’s something that could be sought in collaboration across industry and with the Department of Health with the Responsibility Deal” – Tristan Robinson, group nutritionist, Heinz.

“We certainly have had dialogue right throughout our reformulation with the Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency. They are very receptive to what we are doing and they are happy to listen but they are still going to beat us with a stick if we are not perceived as doing it as quickly as we should” – Robinson.

“As we go through all these [reformulation] changes, we have to be fairly confident that we are actually delivering something that is going to be achievable. I wonder how many governments in the world would actually mandate the legislative changes if it actually leads to everybody living for another 20 years?” – Leech.

“The problem is so much of the reduction you see going on in sugar and salt is quiet reduction. It’s very hard for consumers to track. Many consumers are aware they eat too much salt and they perhaps have too much sugar but they don’t really know there are companies out there doing something about that” – David Jago, director of innovation and insight, Mintel.

“Companies do not necessarily want to communicate [their reformulation]. The industry knows they’ve got to do it. On one hand you want to tell consumers you are doing it. On the other hand, you don’t really want to tell consumers as it could deter consumers just as much as make them buy the brand” – Jago.

“Consumers are getting more and more confused about the information they are given. This is a serious issue we’ve got to address” – Nic Wheater, technical and innovation director, Baxters Food Group.

“We had a similar experience on our KP nuts brand three years ago where we reduced the salt content and had many claims on the front of pack. We had an increase in complaints. We took the claims off and it hasn’t had an impact on our sales. Our consumers expect this to be done as housekeeping but certainly our experience of shouting about it has not been positive” – Lindsay Solomons, UK technical brand manager, United Biscuits.

Functional foods and EU health claims

“Functional foods is a successful market but it is a niche market. Health is seen much broader than just functional foods and foods that have an official EU-certified health claims with them. Functional foods certainly have a place in the market but it’s a limited part of the entire prospect of healthier foods that are out there” – Dr Matthijs Dekker, professor agro technology and food sciences division at Wageningen University.

“I do see also some difficulties with the legislative concept on health claims. There is much more science that is needed to be communicated than in the past” – Annemieke Tops, regulatory affairs and compliance manager, Mead Johnson Nutrition.

“The health claims process is very strict and sometimes I have the feeling that it is too strict. EFSA was originally a safety organisation. The regulation on safety should be strict but the regulation on benefits does not have to be as strict” – Dr Dekker

“The benefit/risk balance is really not taken into account in the proper way. It’s not only blocking the industry from new innovation but it could even harm public health if certain developments are not stimulated by the legislation” – Dr Dekker

“I’m not against that EFSA does a thorough job, but the dificult thing is that the industry puts that functional foods make healthy people healthier, which is more difficult to prove than making sick people better. For probiotics, prebiotics, DHA – everything that is non-essential to human beings – it’s more difficult to prove that you make healthy people even healthier” – Tops

“We should be questioning the level of competency of people in EFSA. Are they the experts? If larger companies investing a lot of work in detailed science, are they not the experts? There’s been some questioning of the level of expertise and competence on some of the decisions made. Maybe it is the complexity of science that they are trying to put across is not understood by people at EFSA” – Paul Isherwood, director innovation, external networks and partnerships, GlaxoSmithKline Nutritional Healthcare Future Group

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