Industry response to PHE sugar reduction report

By James Ridler contact

- Last updated on GMT

The food and drink industry weighed in on the sector's failure to meet sugar reduction targets
The food and drink industry weighed in on the sector's failure to meet sugar reduction targets
The reveal that the UK’s food sector had missed sugar reduction targets set by the Government last year has met with a mixed reception from industry members.

Food firms reduced sugar in their products by 2% for the the period 2016–17, compared with a target of 5% set by the Government.

A spokesman from the Institute of Food Science and Technology told​ that the reduction of sugars and the challenge of reformulation were things the industry was working actively to address.

They added: “Since it involves all stages in the supply chain, from ingredient development and sourcing, recipe enhancement, process development, sensory evaluation, shelf-life testing etc. it takes time for the product changes, in the various categories, to actually reach the consumer.”  

Food Standards Scotland (FSS) said the report was encouraging and provided positive evidence of sugar and calorie reduction by some retailers and manufacturers in the last year.

Heather Piece, head of public health nutrition as FSS, said: “It is encouraging to see a dramatic fall of 11% of sugar from soft drinks, captured by the Soft Drinks Industry Levy ​[SDIL].

‘Must step up their efforts’

“Food Standards Scotland also welcomes publication today of reformulation guidelines for those drinks not captured by the SDIL. However, it is clear that all sectors must step up their efforts to help tackle obesity.”

Chair of the National Obesity Forum Tam Fry said it was unfair to accuse the food industry of defaulting on the challenge to reduce sugar by 5% in one year.

“The Department of Health was warned by industry months ago that the target was probably unachievable, yet Whitehall stubbornly refused to give manufacturers more time to reformulate,” ​said Fry.  

“It now appears that a number of companies simply threw up their hands at the schedule and didn't attempt any reduction at all. It stretches credulity that they will achieve the 20% aim in the next 18 months.”

The British Dietetic Association (BDA) expressed its disappointment at the lack of progress seemingly made by the food industry to reduce sugar. It was most disappointed to see little to no progress across the biscuit, chocolate confectionery and puddings categories.

Limitations in the data

BDA head of external affairs Jo Instone said the organisation recognised the limitations in the data and that the report represented the early stages of manufacturers’ reformulation programmes.

“However, it is disappointing to have such significant gaps and for a number of manufacturers to have refused to allow information on their progress to be published,” ​she added.

“We would hope that the 2019 report can fill in a number of gaps and that we will see more substantial progress made across the board.”

Sue Davis, strategic policy adviser at pressure group Which?, said the Government should take a stronger stance in regulating the amount of sugar in UK food.

“While it's good to see some progress, any reductions need to be part of a wider Government strategy – which includes more action on unhealthy food promotions as well as the use of traffic light nutrition labelling by all food companies,”​ said Davis.

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