As levels of obesity and overweight increase, so too does pressure on food manufacturers to improve the nutritional profile of their products.
In the UK, the government has responded to growing health concerns by setting voluntary salt and sugar reduction targets.
Breakfast cereal is one category leading the charge, having already achieved its target of cutting sugar content by 20%. “In Public Health England’s (PHE) three-year report on progress in the sugar reduction programme, cereals were called out as one of two product categories that have shown the greatest progress in sugar reduction,” said Gharry Eccles, Vice President UK and Oceania of Cereal Partners Worldwide (CPW).
The company – a joint venture between Nestlé and General Mills – has itself achieved approximately 20% reduction in sugar across its products since 2010, and has so far reduced salt levels by 25% since 2003.
“We’ve done this through gradual reduction, ensuring that the quality and flavour is maintained and that consumers stay with us on the journey,” said Eccles at the FoodNavigator 2021 Digital Summit: Positive Nutrition.
Yet CPW has not taken a purely reductionist approach to production renovation. Fortification is also integral to its strategy, the executive explained.
Boosting whole grain content
“Nine out of 10 consumers want to eat more healthily. In order to meet those consumer needs, I believe you have to operate a dual strategy that is both reductionist and increasing,” said Eccles.
Indeed, the JV has not ‘just reduced salt and sugar’, but has simultaneously increased the whole grain content of its cereals.
The health benefits of whole grains are widely acknowledged. Containing essential vitamins and micronutrients, regular whole grain consumption has been associated with a 30% reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes in people who consume them as a part of a low-fat diet.
“Whole grains are pretty powerful stuff,” said Eccles at the event last week, adding that eating cereal with whole grain is also an easy way to boost fibre intake.
The majority of people in the UK aren’t consuming enough fibre. For adults, the recommended average intake is 30g per day. However, on average, men consume just 17g per day, and women only two-thirds of the recommended intake.
CPW – which counts Shredded Wheat, Cheerios and Shreddies amongst its brands – has been taking steps to increase the whole grain content in its cereals over the last decade. “Today, our cereals contain over 1700 tonnes more whole grain that they did 10 years ago,” said the CPW VP.
CPW alerts consumers to this increased whole grain content via a green banner on-pack. “The green banner indicates that whole grain is the number one ingredient. Today, 87% of our cereals now have whole grain as the number one ingredient. The remaining 12.5% of our portfolio is made up of our gluten-free range.”
The company is also fortifying its products with ‘key vitamins’, such as riboflavin and niacin, “irrespective of whether those nutrients were originally present in the food or not”.
Less is more
Looking beyond product renovation, CPW is also exploring a minimalist approach to NPD.
“We’ve learnt that innovation can be less rather than more,” said Eccles, referring to a new CPW product launching this month across the UK. “We’re adopting a ‘less is more’ approach.”
The product in question comes under CPW’s Shreddies’ brand, to be sold as ‘Shreddies: The Simple One’. “It is made from using just four simple ingredients,” Eccles revealed: whole wheat, banana puree, date syrup, and ‘a pinch of salt’.
“The Simple One is ‘all green’ under the Government’s traffic light labelling scheme, with less than 5% sugar, no refined sugar, and is free from artificial flavours. It’s the most natural and healthy product in our portfolio today.”
Suggesting that CPW is playing the long game, the executive revealed the company has ‘big ambitions’. “We want to continue the journey to improved taste and nutrition, because we know that’s what consumers want.
“We will continue to reduce sugar…we will remove all the red traffic lights on sugar from our Shreddies variants by the end of the year, and we’ve also got some exciting innovations with targets to make all of our cereals non-HFSS.
“And we will continue to call on governments to make whole grain a priority in their food and nutritional policy.”
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