The European food environment is on the verge of major regulatory reform.
The European Commission is currently working on plans to harmonize its approach to front-of-package (FOP) labeling across the single market, which is increasingly seen as “a tool to support prevention of diet-related non-communicable diseases”. . As set out in its Farm to Fork Strategy, the Commission intends to adopt a proposal by the end of 2022.
National governments like Spain and Germany are considering tightening marketing guidelines to protect children from the influence of junk food marketing.
The UK, meanwhile, has taken a more aggressive approach. Along with its longstanding voluntary traffic light labeling system, the country is preparing to introduce new restrictions on the marketing and promotion of high-salt-and-sugar (HFSS) products.
Starting in October, volume promotions, such as “buy one, get one free” and two-for-one offers, will no longer be allowed for HFSS items. A ban will take effect on HFSS products placed in secondary promotional locations in stores, such as end-of-aisle displays, store entrances and checkouts. Marketing of HFSS SKUs will no longer be allowed in digital and pre-watershed TV.
“HFSS regulation is very important in the mind of every regulator”, Marie Roy, Senior R&D Manager Cereal Partners UK, observed. CPW is a joint venture between Nestlé and General Mills and produces cereal brands such as Cheerios and Shreddies.
Speaking at FoodNavigator’s Positive Nutrition broadcast event, Roy said CPW supports FOP signaling. This, she suggested, is a key tool for consumer education.“We believe this helps educate consumers and gives them the right numbers to be able to choose…We need all players to act together and we believe that if the front of the pack is in place… it is to educate and adjust the palate of the whole population.
Speaking on behalf of the Birds Eye, Goodfellas and Aunt Bessie’s brands in the UK, Lauren Woodley, Nomad Foods Group Nutrition Manager, also warmly responded to the level playing field she thinks UK HFSS restrictions will help to support.
“We see the increase in HFSS regulations as a real opportunity”,she told the digital audience. “We strongly support the adoption of the regulation. We know that the obesogenic environment is multifaceted, there are many different things we need to do to fight obesity. It is a very complex disease. But we support the restrictions.
Maximizing Nutrient Profiling Scores for Holistic Health
In the UK, the new regulations build on the country’s nutrient profiling model, first developed by the Food Standards Agency for Ofcom to determine whether foods meet nutrient criteria, meaning they can be announced to children. It uses a scoring system that balances the contribution of beneficial nutrients with the components of foods we should be eating less of.
“We’ve endorsed the UK Nutrient Profile Model for years, it’s our internal nutrient profiling criteria that we’ve been using since 2014. The model promotes this idea of holistic nutrition, looking at the bad as well as the good. It really aligns with our perspective on nutrition,”Woodley explained.
Nutri-Score – the labeling system which has attracted the most support but also the most criticism in the EU – is a derivative of the Ofcom model originally developed for use in front-of-pack food labeling packaging and food reformulation in France. It is also calculated by taking into account both the nutrients to limit (calories, saturated fats, sugars and salt) and the elements to be favored (fiber, proteins, nuts, fruits and vegetables).
This approach means that both reformulation – to reduce fat, salt and sugar – and fortification with beneficial macro and micronutrients can play an important role in formulating products considered “healthy” by consumers. regulators.
The twin goals of reducing HFSS and increasing positive nutrients have informed Nomad’s UK brand innovation strategy, from fish fingers to pizza. As for reformulation, the company has focused its efforts on salt reduction, which Woodley described as a “really long program” on “changing people’s habits.”
The company’s R&D activities also focus on elements such as fibers, micronutrients, vitamins and minerals. “They are a key element when developing products because we treat nutrition holistically. We don’t just look at the nutrients of concern that we need to limit, we also need to look at quality. We eat food because it’s is a delicious good that our body needs.
This approach also echoes the way consumers themselves approach food and health, according to Daniel Haley of Ingredion. “The pandemic has really accelerated interest in health and wellness,”he observed, noting that people are “looking holistically at nutrition.”
Similarly, CPW leverages both reformulation and enrichment to “make breakfast better.” Brand renovation efforts have seen the company remove 59 million spoons of sugar from its cereal in 2021 alone.
“We are reducing sugar and salt and at the same time we want to improve the good which, with cereals, is whole grain”,Roy revealed yesterday. This means “arriving with fiber and vitamins” which “reflect the specificity of cereals”.
Roy said CPW found messages about positive nutritional components resonated “very strongly” with consumers. “We learned the hard way. On one approach, we only communicated the reduced sugar,” she explained. “Failing to communicate the good accentuated the bad, putting more focus on one thing missed the context.”
But what about the taste?
Consumers are more aware of their diets and want healthier foods, Birds Eye’s Better Health report suggests, highlighting positive dietary trends seen over the past decade in the UK.
Although on average we’re still not eating our five foods a day and consuming more salt than the maximum recommended intake, there has been marked progress at the population level on both of these issues, Woodley noted.
“[People] say they are much more committed to their food than ten years ago. They are more aware of certain nutrients, like salt and fiber, which is fantastic. And they’re actively looking for nutrition information on packages when a decade ago they might not have been,”revealed the nutrition expert.
But while we generally aspire to eat healthier, concerns about the taste of non-HFSS products remain a major barrier to action.
“Our Better Health Report has shown that people are more aware of nutrition in food… Partly, stealth health is lagging a bit in terms of consumer demand. However, if the sugar is reduced or the salt is reduced, it is assumed that the flavor has also been reduced,”observed Woodley.
For CPW’s Roy, this kind of data is further validation of the “slice of salami” approach the group has taken to reformulation. For her, maintaining taste is a “critical point” because consumers “must continue to like your products”.
“It is important that we take consumers with us on our journey. If you do too much too soon, the consumer will stop buying. It happened to us early on and we learned from our mistake. We had to go back and say maybe we were too bold. Let’s take small steps. It is true that it is more work because it forces you to renew your recipes more frequently. But it’s the only way to continue to engage consumers, to educate them.
The key to onboarding consumers, Haley suggested, is overcoming their fear that “health products aren’t actually healthy.” Ingredion’s Atlas research deciphers this trust issue and its findings reflect the importance consumers place on the perceived naturalness of ingredients.
“Products that carry all-natural claims were most sought after by consumers above any other claims,”Haley detailed. “Nutritional and health claims such as reduced sugar or improved protein were also important. But the naturalness came first.
For this reason, the ingredient expert argued that clean labels have a “huge role to play in improving trust and the perception of quality.”
Consider affordability and accessibility for maximum impact
Taste and trust are “essential anchors” for consumer-facing food and beverage brands. The same goes for affordability and accessibility, Haley told the Positive Nutrition audience. “Nutrition, health and wellness are a good way to create value, but these products must be affordable,he pointed out.
CPW’s Roy agreed that cost — and the required investment in both ingredients and equipment — is a “key constraint” when reformulating and fortifying products in mainstream categories. CPW has therefore focused on striking the right balance between ‘affordable good nutrition’.
For Woodley, affordability and accessibility are also crucial for brands like Birds Eye, Goodfellas and Aunt Bessie’s to play a role in improving people’s health. “Especially with Birds Eye, it’s a very popular family brand. We have millions of consumers who eat our food every day. Therefore, by maximizing our innovation in healthy products, we have a significant impact on the diets of our consumers. It is the impact of this optimization that makes it so important.
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