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Inspiring more businesses to improve the nutritional content of their products

70%1 of shoppers are ‘happy for food companies to change the recipe of products to make them healthier, provided they’re still as tasty.’…so what’s the problem with reformulation?

About this article

  • Published

    09 Nov 2016
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Our research shows that UK shoppers don’t mind industry reformulating their favourite products as long as they taste as good. While we have seen many companies make huge strides in this area, there are still others that are yet to start. IGD set out to understand the challenges and barriers that reformulation can present for businesses and how we can use this insight to help more businesses reformulate for healthier products.

We have also seen an increase in pressure to reformulate coming from government. Salt reformulation targets have been around for many years, initially set by the Food Standards Agency in 2006 and then incorporated into The Responsibility Deal, which set targets to be met by 2017 for those foods contributing most to salt intakes in the UK diet. The McKinsey report2 in 2014 citied reformulation as one of the key ways that the food industry can impact obesity levels, with evidence showing that slowly changing the balance of ingredients in everyday products can be an effective approach to improving diets. The summer of 2016 saw the launch of the government’s Childhood Obesity plan3, which set out an action plan for 20% sugar reduction in high sugar products consumed by children. To meet these targets, industry will need to reformulate existing products to make them healthier.

Understanding the issues

Our first step was to get a better understanding of the challenges and learnings companies experienced when reformulating, so we launched an industry-wide survey in the spring of 2016. We had 217 responses from across the UK, covering all the main food and drink categories and businesses of all types and sizes including; manufacturers, retailers and food service providers. Over half of the responses were from small and medium companies (SMEs).

The survey gave us an invaluable insight into the attitudes and challenges of undertaking healthier reformulation and revealed that a huge amount of activity is already underway. Encouragingly 76% of respondents have already begun reformulating, 64% stated there was more they were planning to do and 8% had not yet started but had plans to.

While this is encouraging, companies would still like more help to maximise the impact of their work.

Identifying the challenges

Maintaining taste and consumer acceptability were cited as the top two challenges when undergoing healthier reformulation. However, reassuringly, out of the 59% of companies who had received some customer feedback, 83% of these received positive feedback and many reformulations have gone unnoticed by the consumer. This is hugely positive for many companies wishing to improve their products without the changes being noticed (‘health by stealth’), and shows that the benefits of reformulation can outweigh the risks.

Budget and technical knowledge were also cited in the top five challenges, but with some companies having more in-house expertise in these areas than others, it is vital for smaller businesses to know where they can turn for help.

Motivating factors

We were keen to discover the drivers behind reformulation activity. What was motivating companies to do it? The reasons were many and varied but the top five motivating factors for reformulation were:

  • Meeting consumer demand (65%)
  • Meeting a customer’s specification, e.g. for own brand suppliers to retailers (63%)
  • We feel it’s the right thing to do (53%)
  • To improve public health (49%)
  • To meet specific nutrient targets (47%)

This clearly shows that both consumer drivers and external influences are a big stimulus for healthier reformulation. We also found that the top nutrients of focus when reformulating towards were; sugars (92%), fat (80%), saturated fat (80%) and salt (79%).

The survey highlighted a shift in reformulation trends, and the nutrients of focus. Trans fats (86%) and the removal of artificial flavours, colours and preservatives (79%) used to be high on the agenda, but as work has been completed in these areas and in light of increased media attention future plans for reformulation tend to focus on sugar reduction (92%). It also highlights that reformulation to increase positive nutrients is increasing with more future plans focusing around increasing protein, fibre and vitamins and minerals.

What we’re doing next

IGD will use the findings from the survey to help us produce the support required by businesses to encourage many more to embark on improving the health of their products. We have started to gather inspiring case studies from food and drink companies that have already achieved great reformulation results to share their learnings and experience. This series of case studies will be made available through

Our reformulation project is just one strand of our wider Healthy Eating programme. We’re also undertaking ground breaking activities in the workplace and working on how to help shoppers make the best use of nutrition information on labels.

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1 IGD shopper research 2015
2 McKinsey Global Institute: Overcoming obesity: An initial economic analysis November 2014
3 Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action (

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