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Tackling obesity through change in food products is not easy.

Autumn this year is likely to be more of a challenge than ever for the trade. Not only is there the run up to Christmas, but the looming Brexit deadline, plus increasing pressures on sourcing, growing environmental anxiety over packaging and sustainability and on the types and nutritional value of our food choices.

September saw a claim in The Times* that Britain is eating even more sugar than two years ago despite a 20% voluntary target to reduce sugar content in certain food products. Some categories such as cereals and yogurts are on track to reach the target, (down at least 9%), other sweet foods have shown little shift, with some puddings and sweets even seeing an increase in sugar per 100g. The Food and Drink Federation has shown little surprise at the figures given the enormity of the task and others have pointed to the success of the sugar levy on fizzy drinks (arguably easier) which has led to a 29% reduction, as a more effective way forward. The threat of a wider tax on the use of sugar in prepared food hangs over the industry.

But recipe reformulation is not an easy or a level playing field across the 10 wide ranging categories in the Government’s Sugar Reduction Initiative, nor is the reduction matrix easy to achieve for individual retailers with different consumer profiles. But tastes are changing. We first tested Low Salt and Sugar Heinz Beans in 2004 when they were widely rejected; 12 years later a 50% Less Sugar version was welcomed with many claiming they couldn’t taste the difference from standard. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into other, treat, categories where a sweeter, more indulgent delivery is expected, even demanded. It will be interesting to see how consumers respond to the new Low Sugar Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Chocolate. And would Christmas be Christmas without an avalanche of sweet treats and indulgences?

Millennials and Generation X are likely to apply different values and make different choices in the future to those more broadly categorised as Baby Boomers. Nevertheless, their world is equally shaped by time pressures, the need for convenience and foods at leisure. Food and Drink manufacturers face an unprecedented challenge in both the retail and food service sectors in working to tackle obesity. It is in everyone’s interest for them to succeed.

*The Times Saturday 21st September 2019

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