The Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU (CIAA) commissioned a survey of food firms’ reformulation actions and plans in 2008, and found that over 20 per cent of companies in France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK markets reformulated products to reduce saturated fat, salt/sodium or sugars, and over a quarter changed started offering more pack sizes.
A similar earlier found that 43 per cent of companies were reformulating products along healthier lines between 2004 and 2007.
While the umbrella trade association said the findings indicate an acceleration of the trend, it added that “the reasons given for not reformulating are illuminating, too”.
For about half 2000 companies surveyed, reformulation was not seen to be relevant for one of several reasons. For instance, fresh produce is not a target for reformulation, nor are products that contain little salt/sodium, sugars or saturated fat in the first place.
Moreover, products that are made to a traditional recipe or whose composition is prescribed by EU legislation are not reformulation targets.
“The surveys thus suggest that the majority of companies for whom reformulation is a sensible option have already done so, or are considering doing so in the near future,” said the CIAA.
The industry has been under a mandate to reduce levels of sugar, fat and salt in products as part of wider efforts to curb obesity. In the UK, the Food Standards Agency has set voluntary targets for firms to reduce levels of salt, and saturated fat.
Some companies have emphasised that big reductions cannot always be made in one go, and for some products the change is incremental.
Food campaigners, however, has continued to criticise some food firms for high levels of some nutrients in products. For instance, Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) last month names some leading makers of pasta sauces with the salt levels in their products.
They survey was conducted in France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK and included some 2000 food and beverage firms.
“The two surveys paint a picture of a food and drink industry that is responding to public health needs at a remarkable rate, considering its extremely fragmented nature”, said Jesús Serafín Pérez, President of the CIAA. “The vast majority (over 94 per cent) of food and drink companies in Europe surveyed were micro, small or medium-sized, so this is a particularly noteworthy achievement.”