Food industry’s efforts to cut sugar revealed
Public Health England (PHE) has published the first assessment of progress on the government’s sugar reduction programme, measuring how far the food industry has gone towards reducing the sugar children consume through every day foods.
As part of the government’s plan to reduce childhood obesity, the food industry – including retailers, manufacturers, restaurants, cafés and pub chains – has been challenged to cut 20% of sugar from a range of products by 2020, with a 5% reduction in the first year.
Progress towards meeting the 5% ambition is the focus of this report and is assessed against a 2015 baseline.
The assessment shows an encouraging initial start from retailers and manufacturers, achieving a 2% reduction in both average sugar content and calories in products likely to be consumed in one go.
Whilst this doesn’t meet the 5% ambition, PHE recognises there are more sugar reduction plans from the food industry in the pipeline – and some changes to products that are not yet captured in the data as they took effect after the first year cut-off point.
For the eight food categories where progress has been measured, the assessment also shows:
- There have been reductions in sugar levels across five categories;
- Yogurts and fromage frais, breakfast cereals, and sweet spreads and sauces have all met or exceeded the initial 5% sugar reduction ambition;
- Sugar levels are generally the same across all sectors, however for the eating out of home sector, portion sizes in products likely to be consumed in one go are substantially larger – on average more than double – those of retailers and manufacturers.
Retailers and manufacturers have also reduced calories in products likely to be consumed in one go in four categories, for example by reducing the size of the product. Of these, ice cream, lollies and sorbets, and yogurts and fromage frais have reduced average calories by more than 5%.
Due to limitations with the data, PHE is not yet able to report on the progress made in the cakes and morning goods categories for retailer and manufacturer’s products. It is also not possible to report on progress for the eating out of home sector alone as part of this assessment. Progress in these areas will be reported on next year.
As part of the programme, businesses are encouraged to focus efforts on their top selling products within ten categories that contribute the most sugar to the diets of children up to 18 years of age. They have three options to help them do this – reduce sugar levels (reformulation), provide smaller portions, or encourage consumers to purchase lower or no sugar products.
Progress is also reported on the drinks covered by the government’s Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL). Sugar has been reduced by 11% and average calories per portion by 6% by retailers and manufacturers in response to the SDIL. Data also shows people are buying more drinks that have sugar levels below the SDIL cut off of 5g per 100g.
With a third of children leaving primary school overweight or obese, PHE continues to call for increased action from all sectors of the food industry to achieve the 20% reduction ambition by 2020.
Duncan Selbie, chief executive at PHE, says, “We have seen some of the food industry make good progress, and they should be commended for this. We also know that further progress is in the pipeline.
“However, tackling the obesity crisis needs the whole food industry to step up, in particular those businesses that have as yet taken little or no action.”
Tim Rycroft, FDF director of corporate affairs, adds, “As PHE correctly point out, reformulation takes time – it can’t happen overnight. Sugar reduction has considerable technical challenges; sugar plays a variety of roles beyond sweetness in food including colour, texture and consistency. It is for these reasons that we have long said that the guidelines are ambitious and will not be met across all categories or in the timescale outlined.
“Food and drink manufacturers are fully engaged in this ambitious programme. PHE themselves recognise that this is an early assessment of progress and that these are the results of just the first year of a four year programme.
“This is a long term commitment – companies need to time to reformulate their products and any restrictions which would prevent them from communicating these changes effectively with adult consumers would undermine the work they are currently engaged in.”