Reaction: UK food industry welcomes sugar reduction target

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Stakeholders in the UK’s food industry have begun to respond to Public Health England’s call for a 20% reduction in the amount of sugar in food products.

The director general of the Food and Drink Federation, Ian Wright, called the target ‘stretching’ but said that manufacturers were willing to take on the challenge. The British Nutrition Foundation and British Dietetic Association both announced their support.

FoodBev has compiled som of the key quotes about this morning’s announcement from important industry figures.

Ian Wright
Food and Drink Federation director general

“Obesity levels in the UK are unacceptably high. Physical inactivity is a factor, but for many the problem overwhelmingly is with excess calories in the diet. With many of these calories coming from sugars, we support the Government’s highly ambitious sugars reduction drive.

“Today’s report represents a constructive platform on which to build a world-leading programme of voluntary sugars reduction, right across food and drink. All parts of the food industry – manufacturers, retailers, takeaways, restaurants and cafés – need to step up. The guidelines are very stretching but manufacturers, for our part, are willing to take on the challenge.

“Manufacturers know the special place their products have in people’s lives. Companies are working hard to overcome technical challenges and make gradual tweaks to favourite foods that regular customers can accept. They are also developing new low sugar alternatives. In some foods, portion size reductions will be necessary.

“This programme is only one piece of a much wider jigsaw of work that needs to be done to move towards better overall diets and more active lifestyles. We look forward to continuing to work closely with PHE and other partners as the programme moves from design into implementation.”

Prof Judy Buttriss
British Nutrition Foundation director general

“The new government recommendation to reduce our intake of free sugars… is very challenging and action across all sectors, including out-of-home food outlets, is going to be key to any success. Some companies have already made significant changes to the sugar and calorie content of their products and there have been some encouraging announcements of plans by industry to step up to the challenge, but there is more to be done.

“Organisations such as the BDA and BNF, which provide evidence-based information to help the public choose a healthier diet, have an important role to play to explain to the public the changes that are being made to products and how to put recommendations on sugars reduction into practice. This includes promoting the idea that smaller portions are a positive step to reduce our energy intakes and contribute to the fight against the obesity problem we face in Britain”.

Sue Kellie
British Dietetic Association deputy chief executive

“The BDA believes that the government now needs to commit to further action in areas such as advertising and promotions. Reducing the sugar in foods is certainly one way to tackle obesity, but behaviours need to change as well. The BDA would suggest that, whilst there are new tougher advertising guidelines on non-broadcasting media, this does not go far enough. The government needs to further restrict the advertising of high-fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) foods before the 9pm watershed and ban promotions on those same products.

“Providing education around healthy eating as standard is also important. Dietitians have the tools and skills to drive behaviour change and help children and families to prepare and maintain a healthy diet. Many are already working in successful programmes across the UK, which could be expanded with further support. If we are to successfully tackle obesity and reduce its long term costs to the NHS and wider economy, we need to change attitudes and habits over the long term – there’s no quick fix.”

Prof Kathy Groves
Leatherhead Food Research head of microscopy

“New guidelines from Public Health England to reduce sugar in everyday foods eaten by children create complex challenges that call for science-led innovation. Reformulation of food products is a common response to health-related issues. However, in the case of sugar reduction, this is not straightforward.

“Depending on the properties of the product in question, sugar can contribute much more than taste. It has preservation qualities, so plays a role in the shelf-life of a product. It also impacts texture, aeration, fermentation (for products containing yeast), bulk and visual appeal. Food manufacturers need to consider interactions between ingredients in a recipe to understand how sugar reduction or replacement will affect the finished product.

“A scientific approach known as ‘blueprinting’, which creates a technical map of a product, is an effective way to address these complex challenges. It considers both the sensory and scientific attributes that explain its profile, drawing on microscopy, microbiology and rheology. This enables objective analysis of properties such as ‘crunch’, ‘creaminess’, ‘lightness’ or ‘smoothness’. Understanding the science that underpins these attributes facilitates more intelligent and efficient product development, with reduced risk.”

Dan Finke
IRI UK managing director

“We’ve known that the Public Health England’s sugar reduction programme has been coming for a while. Eventually all sectors of the food and drinks industry will be challenged to reduce overall sugar across a range of products that contribute to children’s sugar intakes by at least 20% by 2020.

“While Public Health England has made it clear that lowering sugar levels, reducing product size or pushing healthier products are three key options for manufacturers, it is
clear to us that there’s fourth spoke in the wheel: pricing. Promotions in the UK currently account for 40% of all expenditure on food and drink. Even though government stopped
short of legislating against the use of promotions, it is clear that use of promotions will need to reduce as they increase the amount of food and drink people buy by around one-fifth. Food and drink suppliers need to behave responsibly, which likely means a change in the pricing and promotional regime.

“Many suppliers have already been cutting the depth of promotions on offer to shoppers to help offset rising cost pressures. However, basic product pricing (on average across all supermarkets) has not risen in three years. As #Marmitegate highlighted, manufacturers can recommend pricing for their products to retailers but can’t control how much the retailers sell for. Retailers need to play their part too.

“Innovation is also important. IRI analysis shows that, in the UK, high sugar products are still a major contributor to new product development despite an increase in demand from shoppers for healthier food alternatives such as gluten free, non-dairy milk, juices and fortified waters. Suppliers need to work harder to respond to changing consumer trends.”