Improving Dietary Quality Through Food Replacement and Reformulation
Written by Sandrine Pigat
The reformulation and replacement of food products to improve their nutritional profile and encourage consumers to make healthier choices are considered key options in guiding the population to meet dietary targets (WHO 2004). In recent years the number of reformulated foods introduced on the European market has increased enormously, with leading food manufacturing companies reporting the reformulation of at least 50% of their foods (CIAA 2007). There are also many ongoing food reformulation campaigns at a national level, such as salt reduction campaigns by government agencies in the UK, Ireland, France, Spain and Finland.
Product replacement is the action of replacing one food product with an alternative. A good example of healthy product replacement in recent decades is milk. In the 1970s consuming full-fat milk was very much the norm throughout the UK, but since then there has been a decisive shift to semi-skimmed, which now outsells full-fat varieties. As a part of the Saturated Fat and Energy Intake Program (SFEI) launched in the UK in 2008, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) hopes to see a further shift in milk consumption towards 1% fat milk. The FSA commissioned HPI, an independent research company from the UK, to evaluate consumer attitudes towards 1% fat milk. The research involved an at-home trial period (about five days) with households substituting semi-skimmed for 1% fat milk. After the trial, over 70% said they would be willing to make the switch with 56% of testers not able to taste a difference (FSA 2009). This was a very positive result.
Product reformulation refers to reformulating existing foods in terms of altering certain food components while maintaining characteristics such as taste, texture, flavour and shelf life. Today’s consumers expect more options when choosing foods with lower levels of saturated fats, trans fats, salt and sugar, with many food manufactures responding quickly. For example, PepsiCo succeeded in cutting saturated fat levels by up to 70% in their main potato crisp brands (Lay’s, Smith’s, Cheetos and Walkers). In 2005 and 2006, Unilever succeeded in significantly reducing the amount sugar, salt, trans fats and saturated fats in their production processes (CIAA 2007).
Another response by food manufacturers to consumer demands has been an increase in the use of whole grain in products. Nestlé has reformulated its breakfast cereal products to contain whole grain ranging from 15% to 100%. In addition, Nestlé has rolled out a programme to reduce salt in their breakfast cereals, achieving a 30% reduction since 2004. These are other examples of positive steps taken by industry to guide consumers to make healthier choices (CIAA 2007).
Creme Nutrition® is Creme’s software service for nutritional intake modelling. One of Creme Nutrition®’s many capabilities includes the ability to easily examine the potential impact of food reformulation and food replacement in the diet. This can help industry examine the benefit of a reformulation or bringing a new food to market on nutrition intakes of a population.