The sugar reduction and reformulation programme, which forms part of the UK government’s childhood obesity action plan, was announced by Public Health England (PHE), the government’s public health advisory body, in September last year.
In addition to proposed reductions in salt, saturated fat and calorie levels, it also set voluntary targets to cut the amount of sugar by one fifth by 2020 with a 5% reduction in the first year.
This could be achieved in a number of ways such as removing sugar from products, reducing portion size or shifting purchasing towards lower sugar alternatives, it said.
Tim Rycroft, corporate affairs director at FDF said: “There is no question that obesity levels in the UK are unacceptably high. Physical inactivity is a factor, but for many the problem overwhelmingly is with the government as it develops its highly ambitious sugar reduction drive."
But he added: “We have said consistently that a 20% sugar reduction by 2020 across all foods covered won't be technically possible or acceptable to UK consumers. Instead, we believe the success of this work will hinge on the level of sustained engagement coming from the entire food industry.
“That's why the involvement of all players – manufacturers, retailers and out of home operators – is so crucial to securing public support for the level of change we're being asked to make.”
Rycroft’s comments come is anticipation of specific category targets, expected to be announced in the coming weeks for nine categories: biscuits; breakfast cereals; cakes (and breakfast foods); chocolate confectionery; sweet confectionery; yoghurts; ice cream; sweet spreads and puddings.
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Rycroft called for the government to work with trade groups, companies and research bodies to help companies to deliver under the programme. “This could include increased funding for research or additional open access technical guidance for small to medium sized companies.”
Last year FDF published a guide on sugar reformulation in conjunction with Leatherhead Food Research with detailed per-category advice on how to approach the issue.
“If you are reformulating cakes, biscuits and pastries (referred to in regulations as ‘fine bakery wares’), you need to be aware that decorations, coatings and fillings can fall under category 5.4 whilst fine bakery wares fall under category 7.2,” it says. “Both of these have separate lists of permitted additives, so it may be possible to achieve the desired reduction of sugars by modifying the filling whilst leaving the pastry component alone.”
A low sugar claim – and any claim likely to have the same meaning for the consumer - may only be made where the product contains no more than 5 g of sugars per 100 g for solids or 2.5 g of sugars per 100 ml for liquids.
Sugar free claims can be made when a product contains a maximum amount of 0.5 g per 100 g or 100 ml.
The UK’s sugar tax was confirmed in the budget earlier this month, confirming a two-tier levy. For added sugar drinks with a total sugar content of 5 g or more per 100 ml will be set at 18 pence per litre; and those with 8 g or more per 100 ml will be set at 24 pence per litre.