Research has shown that reformulation costs may include new ingredients, changes to food processing machinery, staff time and training, as well as the cost of changing labels. Manufacturers may also incur additional costs that include analytical testing, sensory evaluation, and consumer sampling for the new product.
So how can reformulation be cost effective?
“By taking a leaf out of the UK’s Federation of Bakers’ book,” said Beeren, referring to the 1980s when the UK’s Federation of Bakers’ members reduced the amount of salt in bread.
“The UK baking industry had worked together and as a nation, consumers got accustomed to the taste of bread with reduced salt. There was no issue of switching brand loyalty, so it was quite clever really,” she said.
Individual products like Sprite, for example, suffered a sales slump last year after it cut its sugar content by a third, she said, and Mars chocolate bars faced a similar fate when it reduced the size as part of a pledge to cut its calorie count.
Though working together as a global food industry was perhaps “idealistic” and “difficult to organise given the scale and the competition of the brands”, small and medium scale industries could implement the strategy to meet common goals, she said.
What do consumers want?
As chocolate manufacturers make efforts to realise that their confectionary products meet the target of less than 250 calories per pack, consumers may not want chocolates to be healthy, said Beeren.
“Research has shown that consumers want to be naughty and indulgent with chocolates. They want it as a treat. On the other hand, consumers want everyday foods such as milk, which makes a difference to their diets and health, to be healthy.”
Beeren referred to a survey by Leatherhead in September 2014 that showed more than 60% of consumers said they wanted natural ingredients in the foods they ate at home but only about 5% wanted them when eating out.
“The first step is to understand what consumers expect and want,” she said.
Thinking outside the box
Manufacturers who have played with the structure of food–by replacing salt with aromas associated with saltiness for example–have been successful with reformulation. Heinz, for example, changed the contents of all its tinned soups in 2004 by increasing the quantity of ingredients such as vegetables and reducing fat, salt and sugar.
“Being creative doesn’t have to be expensive,” she said.
There is also a lot of research being conducted by universities and research organisations that may offer key insights into consumer trends and behaviour. “We all want to be healthy, conveniently and without compromising on taste. Reformulation has been here for a while and is going to stay for a long time so manufacturers need to think outside the box,” she added.