David Thomson: Making a difference to the nation’s health

David Thomson, CEO, Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Scotland
David Thomson, CEO, Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Scotland
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FDF Scotland and our members take the health of the Scottish people very seriously – particularly in relation to rising obesity levels. Obesity is a complicated issue and there is no single solution.

Our members are working in partnership with governments at Holyrood and Westminster and other stakeholders to limit portion sizes, reformulate products and educate consumers about the food they are eating. There has been a great deal of progress made and with the Scottish Government’s Diet and Obesity consultation published last week we are looking at what’s next for the food and drink industry.

The Healthy Breakfast initiative  includes fun activities where children learn about the nutritional content of breakfast foods and a balanced diet

The Healthy Breakfast initiative includes fun activities where children learn about the nutritional content of breakfast foods and a balanced diet

Educating consumers is a key way we can help improve public health. Food and drink manufacturers are helping consumers make informed choices by voluntarily providing a simplified version of nutrition information on the front of pack. This means consumers can easily check and compare foods. This is in addition to the legal obligation food and drink companies have to tell their customers what is in their food by providing ingredients lists and full nutrition information.

Many of our members also take part in food education initiatives to help young people understand where their food comes from and how it is produced. Hamlyns of Scotland is a Scottish oat milling business based in Aberdeenshire. They provide a range of products including traditional porridge oats and oatmeal through to convenient quick-cook porridge sachets and instant porridge pots for a healthy breakfast on-the-go.

Hamlyns is part of Business in the Community Scotland’s ‘Healthy Breakfast Challenge’. The initiative includes a number of fun activities where children from primary schools across Scotland learn about the nutritional content of breakfast foods and the importance of a balanced diet.

The pupils undertake a month-long breakfast diary challenge – recording what they’ve had for breakfast in words and pictures, along with any exercise they’ve done. After a month, prizes are awarded for both creativity and healthy eating.

Reformulation of recipes and reducing portion sizes is another way our members are helping to improve the health of the Scottish people. These are proven to be the most effective tools for tackling obesity and there has been a great deal of success. Soft drink companies have reduced sugar from their products by 18 per cent in the past five years and confectionery companies introduced a 250 calorie cap on single serve chocolate confectionery – leading to calorie reductions of between 10-15 per cent. FDF members have reduced the salt in their products by 8 per cent under the UK government’s Responsibility Deal. This builds on previous voluntary action by companies which helped to reduce adult intakes of salt by 11 per cent between 2005-6 and 2014.

Food and drink manufacturers are supporting the UK government’s highly ambitious sugars reduction drive, which launched earlier this year, to reduce sugar content in products by 20 per cent by 2020. This work will have a significant impact on many products manufactured and sold in Scotland.

Often, changing recipes gradually over time is the best way to ensure people continue to buy and enjoy their favourite products. This involves long-term company commitment and investment as reformulation can be as expensive as it is time consuming.

When looking for ways to reformulate recipes, each function of an ingredient must be considered. Sugar plays many different roles in a recipe – it gives the rise, colour and texture in a cake as well as adding flavour. Food manufacturers are rising to this challenge and finding innovative ways to reduce and replace sugars in their products. The food ingredient manufacturer Macphie, based in Aberdeenshire, is currently working three years ahead of the UK government guidelines. Taking a proactive approach to the project, they have produced a range of cake mixes and frostings with 30 per cent less sugar, without compromising on taste or quality.

Their reduced sugar range contains no artificial sweeteners, but instead replaces sugar with inulin – a vegetable fibre made from chicory root which is 100 per cent natural. Macphie is now looking to expand the healthier alternative range across more of its existing products, including its biscuit and flapjack products.

FDF Scotland and our members are committed to continuing to work with Scottish Government, Food Standards Scotland and industry partners from across the food chain to help make a real difference to the health of the nation. This work needs to focus on helping the Scottish people have a healthier lifestyle through more exercise and a balanced diet.

David Thomson, CEO, Food and Drink Federation Scotland