Reformulation to build a thinner nation

By Paul Berryman

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Traffic light labelling, Nutrition, Leatherhead food research

I recently presented a paper on reformulation at a food and health debate run by The Grocer. I described Leatherhead research to cut salt, fat and sugar in foods but still maintain taste and texture. The research showed how micro-particulate salt could be used on crisps to fool the tongue into overestimating the salt present and how water-in-oil-in-water emulsions could cut the fat in mayonnaise. Those in industry also shared their reformulation successes.


But something another speaker revealed struck me. Despite the health messages, only 1% of consumers successfully switch from indulgent to healthy categories. This means that despite five-a-day campaigns, the likelihood of someone giving up coffee-time biscuits for Granny Smiths is slim.

Studies indicate that if taste is good, people will switch to a lower calorie biscuit or a lower calorie cake, but sustained cross-category switching is rare.

I think reformulation works best with simple nutrition labelling. I favour traffic light labelling because it has been proven to change consumer behaviour. Before you start writing in, I agree Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) labelling has its place, but I prefer the hybrid approach of colour coded GDAs.

Sainsbury has years of consumer spending data gleaned from its Nectar card. It suggests people do switch from red to amber to green products, especially sandwiches and ready meals, where at-a-glance healthy choices can be made. It's when regulations and labelling get too complicated that consumers switch off. Let's keep it simple.

The food industry has done a lot to encourage healthy eating. Since 2008, about 450 products have been launched each year on a reduced sugar, salt or trans-fat platform. Bakery, breakfast cereal and savoury snack sectors have been especially prolific. This approach should help cut fat, sugar and salt intake if consumers don't eat two biscuits instead of one.

Paul Berryman is chief executive of Leatherhead Food Research, www.leatherheadfood.com

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