Improving the health of Scottish shoppers

Reformulation is improving our diet, says Dr Colette Backwell

Picture: PA
Picture: PA

IMPROVING public health remains a top priority in 2014 for the food and drink industry. At the Scottish Food and Drink Federation (SFDF) we have been working with the food and drink producers we represent to assess the various ways we can make a positive difference in our businesses and communities.

One strand of activity that is delivering real results for consumers is the work that companies across the UK are doing to make their products healthier through recipe reformulation. Many of the larger companies have been reformulating for years, making gradual tweaks to the recipes of food and drink products to reduce calories (through reducing fat or sugars), cut salt or add nutrients such as fibre.

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Scottish consumers are now reaping the benefits of work undertaken by smaller companies in Scotland. Now in its third year, SFDF’s Scottish Government (Health)-funded Reformulation Programme has been helping small and medium-sized producers to play their part in taking calories and salt out of the Scottish diet by giving them practical, tailored reformulation advice. Since the programme’s launch, SFDF’s industry technical manager Chris Peace has been working directly with 37 firms, reformulating food and drink of all kinds, from oatcakes and morning rolls, to sausage seasonings and curry mixes.

Minister for public health Michael Matheson MSP said: “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.”

As well as making changes to products currently on the market, we are also working to establish a legacy beyond the individual reformulations achieved during its lifespan. One part of this work has been encouraging nutrition students from Robert Gordon University (RGU) to undertake industry placements at food and drink manufacturing sites so they can put their reformulation training into practice. Recently, four students from RGU completed internships organised by Mr Peace, one based within SFDF, the others within companies.

Working with the SFDF team, Gillian Campbell’s internship involved contacting Scotland-based butchers to promote the health and commercial benefits of using lower salt seasonings in products. This work followed SFDF’s initial engagement with four of the biggest seasonings companies in the UK – Scobie & Junor, Dalesman, Dalziel and Kerry – whereby we helped them develop lower salt seasonings for popular butchery products such as sausages. As a result of Gill and SFDF’s efforts, hundreds of butchers across Scotland have access to reduced salt ingredients which can help them meet the Food Standards Agency Scotland 2012 Salt Targets and their customers to reduce their salt intake.

The other three RGU students have helped their producer partners achieve impressive healthy reformulations.

Karolina Papalexi worked with Chalmers Bakery in Aberdeen to reformulate several of their products, including traditional Scottish fare such as butteries and shortbread, as well as puff pastry and pie shells for their meat pies. She also created a healthy vegetable pie which impressed Chalmers Bakery’s director so much that she entered it into the national Scotch Pie Awards in 2013.

Ki Wong helped Itsy, an Aberdeen high-end caterer, reformulate its sandwich range to reduce fat content, creating “lighter” versions. The managing director at Itsy has been inspired to look at introducing a salad range later this year.

And finally, RGU nutrition student Ophelie Robertson was based in SM Bayne, a bakery company with more than 50 retail shops in Fife, Stirling and the Lothians. She looked for opportunities for reformulation in the company’s most popular products, which include the chocolate éclair and mince 
and onion bridie.

This practical experience for RGU students was well received by Brian Ratcliffe, Professor of Nutrition, School of Pharmacy and Life Sciences, who said: “The students were given experience and responsibility in the workplace which will improve their job opportunities when they graduate. The SME businesses gained from the students’ expertise in food and nutrition and, in some cases, the opportunity to try out someone that they might later employ.”

At SFDF we know that we must all step up and play our part in improved public health and the SFDF Reformulation Programme is just one of the ways that we are working to make a difference. Mr Peace said: “Those we have engaged with under the programme, from our company clients, partners in academia, and student helpers, to our sponsors in Scottish Government (Health), have all made the programme a real success to date.

“We look forward to continuing our work with producers to see what more we can achieve together”.

• Dr Colette Backwell is director of the Scottish Food and Drink Federation,