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Reformulation: Small changes to make a big difference

What are the barriers, what are companies doing and how do consumers feel about reformulation

About this article

Reformulation - what is it and why is it important? Hannah Pearse, our nutrition and scientific affairs manager talks about the health issues that are affecting the UK population and why food companies of all sizes should invest in reformulating their products to make them healthier.   

At present, 65% of men and 58% of women are overweight or obese1 with many exceeding their recommended intake for salt, saturated fat and sugar. There is mounting pressure on food companies to not only provide new healthier products, but to also improve the nutritional content of existing products – in the way of reformulation. 

The government has recognised that although the health issues of the population are due to many factors, improving people’s diets could make a real difference. To help drive this change, IGD has published a free best practice guide to reformulation that aims to assist companies in making their products healthier. 

In March 2011, the Department of Health launched its ‘Public Health Responsibility Deal’ in England. As part of this, it has developed a series of pledges to encourage businesses to commit to reducing the salt, calories, artificial trans fats and saturated fat in their products. At the moment these pledges are voluntary, but there is an expectation for businesses to act responsibly and do the right thing for their consumers. 

The consumer

Consumers are often looking for healthier options when shopping and look to food companies to provide products that fulfil this need. Our ShopperVista research found that for 49% of shoppers, health is one of the top five drivers for choosing a product, 35% are looking to buy foods that are lower in saturated fat, and 31% say they will buy products that are lower in salt over the coming year.

Tackling the problem

Currently as a nation we are consuming too many of the ‘public health sensitive nutrients’ - saturated fat, salt and sugar.

Saturated fat is found in fried foods and products containing ingredients such as meat, cheese and pastry. Too much saturated fat can raise cholesterol levels in the blood and can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

It is estimated that about three quarters of the salt we consume comes from processed foods - which is why many manufactures have gone to great lengths to reduce the salt in their products. It is recommended that we consume no more than 6g of salt a day, yet current data shows we are consuming 8.1g a day on average.2 Too much salt in the diet can raise blood pressure increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.  The Department of Health states that by reducing salt intakes by 1g will save 4,147 preventable deaths and £288 million to the NHS every year.3

In the UK the number of those overweight and obese is still growing. Simply speaking this is an energy imbalance where individuals are consuming more calories than they expend.

Being obese increases the risk of several diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. According to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE)  most people who need to lose weight can get health benefits from losing just a small amount of weight - as little as 5%.

Tackling the health of the nation’s diet is no easy task but even small improvements could make a positive difference.

Making strides

Many larger food companies have been working for some time to reformulate their products to make them healthier. Many have made significant progress especially with regards to salt reduction and removal of trans fats.

For example, IGD’s best practice guide shows how Dairycrest reduced the fat and saturated fat in their cheddar cheese by a third, and how Mitchells and Butler’s reduced the salt in a pub dining burger by 65%.4

But for reformulation to have an impact there needs to be improvement from companies large and small, even though some may argue that the latter group’s contribution to the overall diet is relatively small.

This may be the case, but collectively SMEs make a huge contribution to our diets. Over half (58%) of grain mill and starch based products are manufactured by SMEs, as are 45% of processed and preserved meats and 39% of dairy products5 - demonstrating that product improvement  by these smaller companies collectively could have a significantly positive impact on the diet of the population.

What are the barriers?

Larger companies, likely to invest in both new and improved product development, will have dedicated research and development teams and possibly a company nutritionist. This makes product improvement more accessible. Smaller companies however, may not have specialist internal resource or a nutritionist and therefore may not even be aware of the importance of reformulation and relevant government policies.

What has IGD done?

IGD’s Industry Nutrition Strategy Group (INSG) recognised this need for a resource to help smaller companies navigate their way through this complex subject area. There is currently limited guidance available – particularly at no cost - so INSG formed a sub-working group consisting of nutrition and technical experts to create an interactive best practice guide to reformulation.

This user-friendly interactive guide includes:

  • Guidance on how to reduce the saturated fat, salt and energy (including sugars) in products
  • A downloadable approximate nutrition calculation tool
  • A downloadable decision making template
  • The latest information on relevant health and nutrition policies
  • Guidance on sensory testing and benchmarking
  • Best practice case studies

Developed by the industry, for the industry, we hope that companies of all sizes find the guide useful and are inspired to improve the nutrient content of their products, which will ultimately reduce the amount of public health sensitive nutrients in consumers’ diets.

1 *Health Survey for England 2013
2 National Diet and Nutrition Survey - Assessment of dietary sodium in adults (aged 19 to 64 years) in England, 2011. Department of Health 2012
Based on raw ingredients
BIS (Department for Business Innovation and Skills) BUSINESS POPULATION ESTIMATES FOR THE UK AND REGIONS 2012

IGD's Healthy Eating programme has been co-created by industry and IGD and consists of three parts:

  1. Nutrition information on pack
  2. Healthy eating in the workplace
  3. Reformulation

If you'd like to receive occasional email updates about our Healthy Eating programme, please register your details here.

Reformulation: a best practice guide

Reformulation: a best practice guide

Download our free interactive best practice guide to reformulation.

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