IMPROVING public health in Scotland remains a top priority on the national agenda.
The current emphasis on addressing the health of the nation requires collaborative working and the active involvement of government, the healthcare sector, industry and the individual if we are to drive real behaviour change in the Scottish population. Diet, lifestyle, physical activity levels and consumer education must all be addressed.
Food and drink manufacturers are keen to play their part in this important work and have a long history of affirmative action, be it by developing healthy choices, providing clear on-pack food labelling or investing in workplace wellbeing schemes. In addition to producing a wide range of safe, nutritious and affordable foods which provide energy and essential nutrients, manufacturers are also continuously looking for ways to improve the healthiness of their offering. Recipe reformulation is just one tool that manufacturers can use to make recipes healthier, for example by reducing calories, fat or salt or by increasing the fruit and vegetable content. Many have already adopted this approach.
In 2011, Scottish Government partnered with the Scottish Food and Drink Federation (SFDF) to create a Reformulation Programme for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the food and drink manufacturing sector. In Scotland, our food industry is largely made up of SMEs, often family businesses with a long, proud history of manufacturing. Funded by Scottish Government and administered by SFDF, the Programme provides free, hands-on technical support for companies to help them tweak their product recipes to make them healthier without taking away from their popular appeal. Companies’ product recipes and production methods are reviewed by SFDF’s industry technical manager, who helps businesses to identify potential opportunities to improve the healthiness of products.
Since its launch the SFDF Reformulation Programme has worked with many small and medium sized manufacturers and delivered some real health improvements across company product ranges. Just last week Scottish Government announced that SFDF’s work with Maclean’s Highland Bakery, a craft bakery business based in Forres, Moray, had resulted in a salt reduction of 17 per cent across its oatcake range. This range was chosen for reformulation as it is one of Maclean’s’ top sellers and is sold widely within the UK and export markets. Maclean’s are now proactively working on reformulating further products using their enhanced skills and experience gained by working with the SFDF Reformulation Programme.
Recent work with Yeung’s Chinese Foods, a manufacturer of ambient sauce mixes based in Coatbridge in North Lanarkshire, has also resulted in a 12 per cent salt reduction in its flagship Chinese curry mix product. 1.1 million units of this curry mix are sold every year in shops across Scotland and the UK, as well as to hundreds of takeaway outlets.
Minister for Public Health Michael Matheson has said of the programme: “These smaller organisations’ achievements should encourage other businesses to follow suit by showing that products can be made healthier without any adverse effect on their business.”
Companies have over the past few years made great strides in reformulation; for example, members of the Food and Drink Federation, SFDF’s umbrella organisation, have collectively cut the salt content of their products by 10% over the past five years. When companies make such changes to recipes it is essential that they take a stepped approach. Small changes brought in gradually can help people to adapt to a less sweet or salty taste; however, if changes are too pronounced or made too quickly, customers may turn to other less healthy products, which benefits neither the person nor the reformulating producer. A successful reformulation can help people consume fewer calories or other nutrients, while providing business benefits due to the growing popularity of healthier products at home and abroad.
Reformulation is an important tool in industry’s toolbox on health, but it is only part of the solution. As Scotland’s largest manufacturing sector and one with a reach into almost every individual’s life, our sector is acutely aware of its responsibilities. By sharing reformulation best-practice, in addition to providing clear on-pack nutrition information and developing healthier choices, our sector is playing its part in working towards a healthier Scotland.
• Dr Colette Backwell is director of the Scottish Food and Drink Federation