NUTRITIONAL UPDATE – SEPTEMBER 2014

This month sees big brands making changes to both their labelling and product formulation in a quest to appeal to the increasingly health conscious shopper and also satisfy government recommendations.

Health is big business and this blog post looks at the impact that this increased awareness is having on the food industry, consumers and government.

Coca-Cola adopts Front of Pack, traffic light labelling

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In 2013, the government announced a voluntary scheme prioritising harmonised, front of pack, traffic light labelling. The initiative was brought in to provide consistency to consumers and allow them the opportunity to check and compare the nutritional credential of products at a glance, making it easier to make more informed choices when shopping. The traffic light coding is designed to work alongside the new labelling laws coming into effect from December 2014.

Despite all the major supermarkets and the likes of PepsiCo, Mars, Nestle and Premier Foods joining the scheme as launch partners in June last year, Coke stayed firm in declining to become part of the initiative.

In a rather dramatic U-turn, Coca-Cola Great Britain convinced their Atlanta bosses that there was benefit in using such a system and by the end of 2014, more than 20 Coca-Cola brands, including Fanta, Lilt and Oasis, will be displaying traffic light coding on their front of pack labels. This decision was made despite the fact that their ‘full fat’ coke variety will display ‘red’ for sugar content. Diet Coke on the other hand will carry straight green lights for fat, saturates, sugar and salt.

The company stressed its backing was part of its commitment to provide consumers with transparent information, that can help people choose a balanced diet.

Public Health figures have welcomed this move and praised Coca-Cola for recognising its responsibilities.

With shoppers increasingly becoming ‘nutrition savvy’ and very aware of the nutritional content of the foods they buy, this move by Coke perhaps highlights that brands have nowhere to hide these days and transparency is the best option.

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A2 milk protein has scientific backing

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Lactose intolerance is on the rise and is one of the most common intolerances within the UK. The treatment for lactose intolerance is avoidance of the sugar lactose, found in most dairy foods. This, is part of the reason why the ‘dairy free’ market is currently enjoying considerable growth. Indeed, Britain’s consumed 92million litres of milk alternatives last year alone, an increase of 155% from 2011 and the value of the dairy free sector has risen by 16.3%.

However, in more recent years, scientists have been considering whether some individuals are actually intolerant to a particular protein in cows’ milk called a1 and it is this that is producing the classic signs of bloating, gas and diarrhoea that follow eating dairy, not lactose at all.

Cows’ milk also contains a type of protein called a2 and it has been shown in the past that these two proteins react very differently to each other, with a2 proteins being better tolerated within the gastrointestinal tract. However, this had never been proved in a human trial until now, with a recent study showing that 38% of individuals, with self-reported lactose intolerance, reported higher abdominal pains and 83% with worsening bowel motility when consuming a1 milk for an eight week period, compared to those consuming a2 milk.

As ever, no clinical trial is flawless, and this trial was funded by the major provider of a2 milk on the market, but such findings do open up a new, exciting world for brands in which to compete. Consumers certainly seem to have a thirst at the moment for products which will help ease their burgeoning list of intolerances, be that gluten-free, dairy-free or a1 free!

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Heinz reduces ketchup sugar levels with stevia line

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All the media attention on sugar has certainly not gone unnoticed, with many big brands taking decisive action to ensure customers get what they want. Indeed, a recent Public Attitudes Trackers survey by the Food Standards Agency, showed that the proportion of adults concerned about sugar has risen to its highest level since its launch in November 2010, by 48%.

Following in Coca-Cola’s footsteps, Heinz is launching a version of its ketchup that contains Stevia – a natural sweetener, extracted from the Stevia plant. By doing this, Heinz has been able to reduce the sugar content of this product by 50% – a significant saving. Not only that, but the new line will also contain 25% less salt (1.3g/100g), which meets the government’s 2017 salt reduction target for ketchup set at 1.7g/100g. Proof therefore that some brands do reformulate in order to honour their pledge commitments.

The new line will replace the existing sugar and salt SKU, which is currently worth £3.6millon to the brand. Heinz has said that the, ‘no artificial sweeteners message offered the most compelling benefit to shoppers’.

This is a changeable time for brands and it will be interesting how far reformulation can be pushed, in favour of health, whilst still meeting the public’s high expectations on taste.

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Health minister holds crunch talks to revive RD

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The government’s Responsibility Deal started in 2011 and since then has received a fairly constant flow of praise and criticism in equal measure. However, government leaders of the Responsibility Deal have expressed concern that the sign up rate to pledges from some large, influential companies is quite low.

On 1st September 2014, the government held talks with the food industry to try and assess how the Responsibility Deal and the food industry can improve their working relationship. Health minister Jane Ellison had called on companies to explain why key elements of the Deal were struggling and what exactly the key criticisms were from the public and the industry. Focus was also given to success stories of the Deal, the reasons for them and how these may be built upon to further improve the voluntary partnership.

Alison Hardy, Public Health England Marketing Team and Gwen Nightingale, Deputy Director for the Obesity & Food Policy Team, Department of Health, both made interesting presentations on the current position of the Responsibility Deal as well as an overview of current consumer perspective towards supporting healthy eating.

Stemming from the recent SACN report on Carbohydrates and Health, Department of Health are considering strengthening the calorie reduction pledge, with the possibility of specific new actions on sugar and fibre. In light of the recent media frenzy on sugar consumption, this may be a welcome introduction to consumers.

The Responsibility Deal does work, significant reductions in salt levels across the industry highlight that, however, if the Deal is to remain voluntary, then work does need to be done to ensure that the hard work being put in by some companies is recognised, as well as ensuring that ultimately the end result is the improvement of food along with health benefits for the consumer but not at the expense of unacceptable taste changes.

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Tesco to brainstorm health strategies for web in ‘hackathon’

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Tesco is embracing its digital platform to influence the health of its customers by hosting a 48hour ‘hackathon’ in October, designed to develop strategies which improve the health of its customers for the long term.

The event forms part of Tesco’s wider work on obesity and attendees, including Coca-Cola and P&G, will compete to develop the best solution. Tasks will include exploring ways in which individual data can be shared with shoppers, enabling customers to compare purchasing habits, as well as being asked to examine ways in which customers can be encouraged to connect with each other and share healthy living tips and advice.

This strategy highlights the importance that key players within the food industry are putting on digital technological as a means of educating and communicating with their customers and it will be interesting to see if other major retailers follow suit.

This however, is just one arm of Tesco’s mission to improve the health of the nation. Its commitment to banning junk food from check outs, reducing the amount of sugar in soft drinks and introducing its healthy eating range called ‘My Fit Lifestyle’ means that Tesco certainly cannot be blamed for not taking its responsibilities seriously.

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Yoghurts face demand to be healthy and low in sugar

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When Action on Sugar began its campaign last year, yoghurts were one of the first products to feel their wrath. No brand was safe from scrutiny. When headlines like this hit the press that it is imperative that consumers have the knowledge to make informed conclusions about what they are reading.

Some yoghurts may be guilty of putting in too much ‘added sugar’ but in most cases, a large proportion of the sugar from yoghurt comes from the milk within the yoghurt or within the fruit they add. This means that most of the sugar comes from ‘natural’ sources. Yoghurt also contains useful amounts of other nutrients, vitamins and minerals, such as protein and calcium. Therefore, it can be argued that yoghurt is not really comparable to Frosties, or other sugar coated cereals, from a nutrition perspective.

Indeed, despite the sugar war, most yoghurt brands seem to be confident they can avoid the sugar backlash affecting their brand with Yoplait saying the sugar trend is one they are watching closely but they haven’t yet witnessed any changes to consumer behaviour. Collective Dairy however, seems to differ in opinion with the brand currently working on a sugar reduction plan across its range, which will reduce sugar content by 15%.

It will be interesting to see which brand gains the most consumer sales…

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