Since launching the Scottish Government’s Reformulation for Health program in 2019, Reformulation for Health manager Joanne Burns has seen a massive increase in the number of businesses wanting to work with them.
As she says, the program’s reputation has grown in tandem with its scale of funding, along with the nutritional impact in the projects it’s supported.
“When the project first started, we were more into connecting businesses with other people that could help. COVID made us [rethink] about how we support the industry – allowing us time to reflect on what it actually needs to make products healthier,” Burns tells Bakery&Snacks.
“Since then, the program has massively changed and has seen an increase in the businesses that are wanting to work with us. It’s also seen an increase in the size of businesses that want to work with us. The [first] Reformulate Challenge Fund saw more smaller projects – and we are absolutely still funding businesses of that size – but as our range of support and funding has increased, I’ve definitely seen a change in the scale of Scotland’s best love brands coming on board.”
One project, for example, was working with Bells Food Group to reduce the sodium in its pie shells.
“Approximately nine tons of salt was removed, which is equivalent to nine family size cars. Talk about small changes making a big difference,” says Burns.
To reformulate or not?
Reformulation is unique to each business, running the gamut from the reduction of fat, salt and sugar to replacing ingredients with healthier alternatives or reducing portion size and calorie value. However, it all comes at a cost, so the RCF4 is there to assist.
“Obviously, changing a product to make it healthier can have a lot of associated costs, whether that is trialling a new recipe or process, having to buy new equipment or paying for nutritional testing, shelf life testing, or even technical time with an academic or a consultant,” explains Burns.
“At the moment, there are so many other conflicting challenges – net zero, sustainability, increased costs – so if we can make reformulation a bit easier and help industry to start a project, then that’s what we want to do. We have lots of free resources, guides and webinars online to help with some of the steps of reformulation, but actually helping to start that project is the aim of the Fund.”
Adds Burns, “We’re coming up to our five year anniversary of the program and offer a wide range of supports. We have our Reformul8 Partnership, which is a group of people from across the whole of Scotland’s food system working together to support successful reformulation – everybody from academic partners and NGOs, through to food manufacturers and ingredient suppliers. And each of our partners has developed their own commitment to support reformulation in Scotland.”
She explains, “If a business that applies for funding was working on a project to, say, meet the sodium production targets for 2024, we’ve got a range of salt and lower sodium suppliers that we can connect them to.”
This is the sixth funding stream facilitated by the Reformulation for Health program, which to-date has awarding funding support to 66 SME manufacturers, while the Reformul8 Challenge Fund has supported 46 businesses over the past three rounds.
Who, what, how, when?
Open to Scottish-based F&B businesses, RCF4 has a total value of £50,000 to support reformulation, granting funds ranging from £250 to £5,000. Funds will be provided by the Scotland Food and Drink Partnership Recovery Plan, however, applicants must provide at least 50% of the total project costs.
Apart from alcoholic products, there are no restrictions in applying for the Fund, but Burns emphasises that preference will be given to commonly consumed products that will have an impact on the health of people within Scotland.
“We’re not looking at new product launches; we’re not looking at products that are already healthier and people want money to market that. We’re looking at projects that want to change the recipe to make it healthier,” she adds.
“Some of the businesses that have received the funding in the past include butchers, bakers to readymeal makers and everybody else inbetween; ice cream, crisps and chocolate, too. Any food business can apply, but they need to demonstrate that they’re looking to make that product healthier. We do encourage people to record their pre and post nutritional data so we can measure the impact of their project.”
Applications will remain open until 16 February 2024 and successful applicants will be notified within seven days.
“There'll be three of us reviewing and scoring [applications] so we can make sure that we’re picking the best projects with the highest impact. We’re aiming to announce those successful businesses at our Celebrating Reformulation and Innovation Showcase event.”
Insiders' view of reformulation
Celebrating Reformulation and Innovation for Health is designed to bring together industry experts, manufacturers and academics working in reformulation and innovation to discuss public health drivers, consumer trends, policy insights.
“It's also an opportunity to come along and learn from industry experts and peers on how they’ve reformulated what challenges they overcame to deliver a successful program, and to hear about some new innovative products that are coming in the market that will help them with their reformulation project,” says Burns.
“We’re delivering the event in partnership with Interface, which in 2023, had [partnered] with us on the Healthier Product Innovation Fund. Rather than money going to the food manufacturer, it went to an academic partner to deliver that project alongside the manufacturer. The fund value was higher – £10,000 per project – and we delivered eight projects within that. So that’s why we’ve got the twin sides of reformulation and innovation at this event.”
The Showcase – which is free to attend – is taking place on 26 February at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh. Food and drinks will be served.
“We are here to help food manufacturers start their reformulation journey. We have those answers already. If you want any guidance and support, we’re here. We’re free and we have all the connections to link you up with partners that can help you,” says Burns.
However, she does suggest first speaking to your ingredient suppliers.
“Very often the answer already exists. Your suppliers may already have lower sodium blends, higher fiber options and lower sugar products.
“And sometimes it’s a case of just asking. I think we all get stuck: I've always done it this way, so I'll always do it that way. But consumers are changing, trends are changing, and we need to make sure our businesses are future proofing themselves for upcoming legislation and new public health targets.”