UK food industry responds to new nutritional demands

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food industry Nutrition

The UK food and drink industry is winning the battle to make food
more nutritional, claims the Food and Drink Federation.

The FDF says that by the end of this year, 36 per cent of products - worth £7.4bn - will have less salt compared to 2004, while 15 per cent (£2.2bn) will contain less fat.

In addition, 10 per cent (£1.4bn) will have less sugar than last year.

These findings are the result of a survey issued by the FDF in September 2004. This Food and Health Manifesto, as it is called, set out a series of commitments ranging from reductions in salt, sugar and fat, to action on portion sizes, advertising to children and better labelling.

"Consumers increasingly want to manage their diet and lifestyle,"​ said FDF president Gavin Neath.

"UK manufacturers are committed to providing their customers with both the products and the information they need to help them make the right choices.

"The industry has delivered a huge expansion of choice through innovation and new approaches to marketing and information for consumers. We should not under-estimate the effort and resource that has gone into these changes. They have involved the reformulation of household brands worth many billions of pounds."

The food industry has had little choice but to innovate of course. Nutritionists have singled out processed foods as a major culprit in the rise of obesity, and consumers have begun to demand healthier choices.

The food industry has therefore been presented with a choice: innovate or face the consequences. With one in five British adults now obese, according to the Royal College of Physicians, the food sector has become the arena within which an increasingly public debate on obesity is conducted.

Some would even argue that while the industry has made some progress, there are still many barriers to healthy eating that need to be tackled.

"The industry continues to market foods high in sugar, fat and salt to children and confuses shoppers with misleading labels and claims,"​ said Miranda Watson, campaign team leader of consumer watchdog Which?. "The food on the shelves still contains more sugar, fat and salt than we need. The industry cannot afford to drag its feet."

Nonetheless, the FDF believes that its findings show that the food industry is responding to these concerns. The federation claims that £33bn worth of products will have full nutrition information on pack by the end of 2006, and that almost two-thirds - worth £15bn - will have salt equivalence information.

"Our survey, the first ever of its kind, reveals that the UK food and drink industry has delivered a quiet revolution in the choice, nutritional content and marketing of its products which has accelerated over the past year,"​ said Martin Paterson, FDF deputy director general.

In addition, the FDF points out that food and drink manufacturers have taken other measures to improve the nutritional profile of UK children. Vending machines are not allowed in primary schools, while the choice of products available to children in secondary schools has been increased.

"The Food and Health Manifesto represents a long-term commitment to product improvement, innovation and partnership, which will bring significant benefits to consumers and make a material contribution to public health,"​ said Neath.

"The report provides clear, detailed, evidence of our willingness to play our part in partnership with government and other stakeholders."

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