Healthy snacking

Finding the sweet spot within the HFSS restrictions

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Just because the pressure is piling on to cut back the sugar content of snacks doesn't mean to throw taste and indulgence out of the window. Pic: GettyImages/adrian825
Just because the pressure is piling on to cut back the sugar content of snacks doesn't mean to throw taste and indulgence out of the window. Pic: GettyImages/adrian825

Related tags HFSS Public health england Zusto Malt Products Corporation Sprouted grains Obesity better for you Iri

To tackle the alarming rise in obesity, the UK government has placed restrictions on the instore promotion of snacks high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) from October 2022.

Today, around two-thirds (63%) of Brits are above a healthy weight and of these, half are living with obesity. One in three children leaving primary school, too, are already overweight or considered obese.

Last year, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced increased efforts by his administration to tackle the skyrocketing crisis, noting that helping Brits to achieve and maintain a healthy weight is one of the most important things it can do to improve the nation’s health.

Obesity is a risk factor for a number of chronic diseases, ranging from diabetes to cardiovascular complications, and associated with reduced life expectancy. Overweight people are also at a greater risk from COVID-19.

Helping the consumer to live better

The government has launched a number of measures to help people live healthier lives, including the Better Health campaign; increased weight management services; consulting on front of pack labelling; mandating that food-to-go businesses add calorie labels; and legislating to end the promotion of foods high in fat, sugar or salt (HFSS) by restricting volume promotions and placement in certain locations.

The government said the majority of overweight or obese consumers want to lose weight, but face a daily struggle with the endless prompts to eat – on TV, online and on the high street. “We need to support people by making the healthiest option the easiest option,”​ it said.

Joe Harriman, HFSS Strategic Consultant at IRI, told BakeryandSnacks, “As part of the government’s efforts in the UK to tackle what is really a national obesity crisis – particularly childhood obesity – it has introduced this policy that limits promotions or media exposure for products classified as having a high amounts of calories, fat and sugar. Unlike the sugar tax that was introduced to soft drinks in 2018, the approach here is to reduce the visibility of less healthy HFSS products to children to reduce so-called ‘pester power’.”

However, we think there is the big opportunity here,​added Harriman.

Producers of snacks and bakery products must look into how they can work differently with retailers of different sizes; they should look at expanding into new categories; relooking at aisle placement and even use the restrictions to your benefit: “if this product becomes one of the very few allowed to be promoted, you can imagine the potential that brings with it. I think we’re going to see a lot more in promotion innovation when these rules come into play.”

With consumers increasingly seeking out healthier, guilt-free treats, producers are feeling to the pressure to reformulate existing recipes or add in new lines using alternative ingredients.

Passing the muster

“The portfolio of nutritive sweeteners offered by Malt Products Corporation, as well as our sister company, International Molasses, align with consumer demands for healthy, clean label and non-GMO products. Specifically, they address the marked shift away from both artificial sweeteners and ‘empty calorie’ sweeteners like sucrose and HFCS,”​ MPC president Amy Targan told this site.

The New Jersey-based family business has been producing natural sweeteners derived from whole grains like malted barley and oats since the 1950s.

“Many of our sweeteners evoke a wholesome nostalgia, a sort of endearing throwback for bakery and snack items that adds emotional appeal to practical, better-for-you benefits. Importantly, all-natural nutritive sweeteners can accomplish this while also being useful, multi-functional ingredients for bakery and snack food manufacturers,”​ said Targan.

MPC’s extracts are minimally processed, thus retaining much of the nutritious attributes of the original grains. For example, said Targan, the source for the company’s MaltRite extract is a sprouted barley – the grain’s enzymes are unlocked with only water and heat, meaning the nutritive sweeteners are packed with protein, minerals, antioxidants and vitamins.

In addition to being clean label-friendly, they are multi-functional and act as natural humectants, browning enhancers, fermentation aids, and boosters of body and viscosity.

“Malt and oat extract offer nutty, toasted flavour profiles that have positive, nostalgic and healthy associations with consumers at a time when comfort is key,”​ said Targan.

“The result is a sweetener that not only ‘passes muster’ but actually promotes the product right on the ingredients label. Not only do consumers recognise these ingredients as all-natural – a sizable advantage over the myriad sugar derivations and substitutes flooding the snack food market – they have an actively positive association with malt, oat and other grain-based ingredients. For bakery item and snack food brand owners, the result is literally a ‘sweetener that sells’.”

Getting out of a sticky situation

Another sweetener making waves on the better-for-you bakery and snack front is Zùsto, which is quickly gaining the reputation of ‘the apple of sugar alternatives’, Geert De Bauw, sales & export manager, B2B, told this site.

“It’s common knowledge that reformulating baking or pastry applications towards healthier sugar-free or sugar reduced alternatives comes with many challenges,”​ said De Bauw.

“Reformulating goes beyond managing and masking specific taste profiles, lingering off-notes and taste intensities of specific to concentrated single ingredients that can impact the overall flavour perception.”

He added the challenges also include altered proportions, molecular weights, crystallisation and modified share of solids that impact viscosity, thickness, body, volume, rise and mouthfeel of the recipe.

“Following years of research, Zùsto was developed to combine a sugar-like taste and functional properties with significant fibre-related health benefits.

“It fits really well as a convenient 1:1 sugar replacer in many applications – from a moist and fluffy sponge cake and French brioche to whipped cream, buttercream and other fillings or toppings, creating texture sensations popularly sought out by consumers – baked and frozen, hard and smooth, silky and crunchy, soft and crispy. It’s being used on a daily basis by industrial, professional and artisan kitchens all over the world.”

Zùsto is not a solution for 10% sugar reduction (SR); it is mainly suitable for >30%SR segment, De Bauw told BakeryandSnacks. But SR with Zùsto is much more than just a 75% lower calorie count compared to regular sugar.

“Its rich source of balanced and diversified fibres lead to many other benefits that make treats better for you: slowing down the emptying of the stomach helps you reach a faster saturated feeling which helps in weight management diets. The combination of Zùsto’s prebiotic dietary fibers stimulates the different parts of the digestive system, stimulating better uptake of micronutrients and resulting in a strong body immunity. Recent research has discovered a link between a healthy digestive system and mental health (the gut-brain axis) and healthy respiratory system (gut-lungs axis).

The use of the ingredient will enable producers to make front-of-pack claims like no added sugar, low in calories and high in fibre.

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