In a new report on the role of energy density in helping consumers to make healthier choices, IGD says food producers must take a more holistic view of the matter, rather than looking at individual issues in isolation such as salt content, saturated fat content or even a product's calorific values.
The guide, published last month, also recommends that energy density should form part of the nutrition strategy for food businesses where appropriate for the product. It offers guidance on methods of taking it into account as part of the nutrition guidelines for product reformulation and new product development. It says that any messages targeted at consumers (for example those on product packs) should focus on positive ways in which they can reduce their calorie intake and improve energy balance, rather than simply citing the energy density of the food concerned.
The think tank also calls for continued support for government and industry research into reducing the energy density of food products.
Rachel Hackett, nutrition and scientific affairs manager at the IGD, told Food Manufacture that the report was an attempt to raise the profile of the energy density issue, rather than a criticism of producers' current approach. But she added that moves by producers to cut down on individual constituents like salt and saturated fats were often not enough, in themselves, to make much difference in energy density terms.
"Some companies are already carrying out reductions in certain areas, such as saturated fats, but that won't necessarily mean a reduction in a product's overall energy density. It's about looking at the product profile as a whole," she said. "Removing the sugar from a product, for example, is a positive but if you're just replacing it with other carbohydrates, the overall energy density isn't going to change."
A spokesperson for the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), which was part of the working group that produced the report, said it fully supported the IGD findings, adding that according to Kantar data, FDF members have reduced the energy density of their products by an average of 4.5% since 2005.