Premier has agreed to reduce calories in one third of its sales by 2014 as part of the agreement, with at least 30% of the firm’s new products also set to be low calorie choices, according to the Department of Health.
Pot Noodle maker Unilever and Nestlé have also agreed to further tackle the obesity issue in the UK, through reformulation programmes and support for education in schools and the workplace.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s plan has also been backed by manufacturers Kerry Foods, PepsiCo UK and Kraft.
Highest rates of obesity
The UK currently has one of the highest rates of obesity in Europe, with over 60% of adults and a third of 10 and 11 year olds suffering from the problem.
The government is seeking to reduce this however, by urging people to eat and drink less and encouraging the food industry to make voluntary calorie cuts to products.
Lansley said: “Eating and drinking too many calories is at the heart of the nation’s obesity problem and we all have a role to play. It is an ambitious challenge but the Responsibility Deal has made a great start.
“This pledge is just the start of what must be a bigger, broader commitment from the food industry. But it is a great step in the right direction and will help millions of us eat and drink fewer calories.”
His comments were supported by Melanie Leech, director general of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF). She confirmed that a number of manufacturers had made “immediate commitments” to combat the problem.
“Recognising the importance of the government’s Call to Action on Obesity in England, the FDF has been working constructively alongside other stakeholders through the Public Health Responsibility Deal to develop a calorie reduction pledge,” she said.
“We welcome the approach of a menu of options, which should allow as many firms as possible to support improved public health, while continuing to make a major contribution to the UK’s economic recovery.”
Many of the UK’s biggest retailers have also joined the fight, with Asda, Tesco and Morrisons all signing up to the programme.
British retail Consortium food director, Andrew Opie, said: “Responsible retailers are dedicated to helping people make healthier choices.
“The new commitments on calorie reduction complement other work retailers are doing in areas such as calorie information, salt reduction and alcohol units. The next phase must be to consolidate the excellent foundation which so many businesses have helped to put in place.”
Despite receiving widespread support from the food industry, the Department of Health was slammed by the Children’s Food Campaign (CFC), which described the plan as “shameful”.
"It is shameful that the Department of Health is fuelling an industry game of smoke and mirrors instead of demanding enforceable actions to reduce calorie content.
“Without an end to junk food marketing promotions, these token gestures become totally irrelevant.”
The CFC argued that support from firm’s such as McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC was “conspicuously missing”. It also called on firms to commit to permanently reducing calories across the all their products, not just new ranges.
This is not the first time that the controversial responsibility deal has attracted criticism since it was launched early last year.
In October, TV chef Jamie Oliver described the plan as “worthless, regurgitated rubbish”.