I was reminded by a recent article in Food Manufacture of the relative importance of product reformulation in improving diet quality.
Salt reduction was considered by the Institute of Fiscal Studies in their 2014 report (for years 2005-2011) and the conclusions were that the reduction in the purchase and intake of salt by 5.1% was met by the food manufacturing industry voluntarily reformulating processed food products, using governmental targets as their goal. The UK’s salt reduction programme combined these voluntary targets with a public information campaign designed to encourage consumers to switch to lower salt products. However the report says that:
“Product reformulation was by far the most important factor driving the reduction in the saltiness of grocery purchases”
Overall, the Institute of Fiscal Studies suggest that voluntary regulation is an effective way of changing the intake of a targeted nutrient. The major advantage of this strategy is that reformulation potentially affects all consumers from all socioeconomic groups.
Implications for Sugar and Saturated Fat in Obesity
This strategy could have implications for the reduction of other nutrients consumed in excess including sugar and saturated fat. This is of particular interest with obesity being a major issue and a priority for the UK government.
How is the Industry Responding?
Dietary sodium reduction is still an important public health initiative. Food manufacturing industry is addressing this and many are reformulating “healthier” products as part of their product development programmes. But not all of the industry is approaching the task with equal vigour. Economic and commercial issues are blamed for holding-back new product development for salt reduction, even when there is evidence-led science indicating that recommended targets can be met with current ingredient or technological alternatives. It is likely that lower sodium-containing products will appear more common-place when there is no cost disadvantage to a company trying to produce a “healthier”, lower sodium food. This will require a “level playing field” for sodium standards across product categories and possible legislation to ensure that these standards are met.
What Happens Next?
Post –Brexit, the commercial issues to reduce unit costs may become acute over the short term especially if there are major increases in raw material cost and it maybe that food manufacturing will focus on adjusting formulations or product formats to compensate. However, longer term it would seem that reformulating to specific nutrient targets is probably one of the most effective solutions for dietary change and improved health for the nation.