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Making existing food products healthier: challenge or opportunity?

31 January 2018

The pressure is on for food producers to meet consumer demand for healthier alternatives as well as align with government legislation such as reducing sugar. However, reformulating existing products can bring food producers new opportunities.

Being creative with reformulation

At the Food Matters Live conference in London last year, the recurring theme was reformulation. At a conference panel session major food manufacturers responded to the challenges at hand. Joanna Allen, global brand vice president at Hellmann’s, said: “I think the opportunity is actually for us to be a little bit more creative with how we go about renovation. Whilst it’s relatively simple for us to look at, albeit technically challenging, reducing nutrients of concern, actually how do we delight consumers in a way that makes that product a more appealing product?”

It’s certainly a tricky challenge to reduce or replace sugar. When adding new ingredients, the producer must avoid bringing in negative flavour notes. Changes in flavour, even if not negative, can have an unfavourable impact for an established brand. Ideally, when handling a beloved product, the flavours must either match what exists or improve on it.

Allen talked about the new additions to Hellmann’s ketchup range including a product sweetened with honey and another made from red and green tomatoes. Of course, it’s not just flavour that sugar brings. As we discussed in blog on the Sugar Tax, sugars are bulking agents, which give texture, and without sugars soft drinks lack body and feel flat in the mouth. Sugar also gives a certain viscosity, influences colour and can act as a preservative, prolonging product shelf-life.

What are the options?

So how to find a happy medium? We outlined sugar alternatives and approaches in our November blog. When it comes to reformulation, there are two main approaches to introducing your product to consumers.

The covert approach

Some companies choose to undertake reformulation by stealth, whereby ingredients of concern are reduced gradually without making this known to the consumer. This is largely the preserve of the bigger, known brands.

Health campaigners tend to believe that reformulation by stealth is the most effective way of lowering consumption of undesirable ingredients. Salt was done in this way in the UK reasonably successfully. It is perhaps a more noble way to influence consumer behaviour. However, the stealth approach means the food manufacturer doesn’t get any credit. They may well have invested a great deal of time and effort into the reformulation but won’t be able to publicise it.

Reformulation with a fanfare

In this approach, companies showcase their expertise and innovation, rolling out new, renovated products. On the Food Matters panel, Sue Gatenby, PepsiCo senior director nutrition Europe said: “I would rather talk about innovation and bringing new science to the marketplace.”

For consumers with an interest in healthier low/no sugar alternatives, it makes sense to declare your offering – especially if you have a new product on the market. A new product, or a revamped product, can be marketed as such, leveraging current trends, gaining attention and differentiation and, hopefully, sales.

The main challenge with this approach is making the product as good others in the same category and ensuring it has a great taste. Of course, consumers don’t necessarily want the product to change. There can be negative press associated with a taste that doesn’t fit the bill.

From reformulating to renovating

Producers are often using the term renovate rather than reformulate when talking about their products. Creating new, updated versions of your products can reinvigorate them and ensure they remain relevant. Even if there is no legislative driver for making the change, shifting consumer perceptions to focus on new, healthy products that delight consumers is going to give your business opportunities.

To find out how you might renovate and innovate your food products, talk to Froghop.