Joanne Burns: Improving Scotland’s health at heart of reformulating food and drink sector

Joanne Burns, Reformulation Project Manager, Food and Drink Federation Scotland
Joanne Burns, Reformulation Project Manager, Food and Drink Federation Scotland
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The impacts of a poor diet and obesity are profound in Scotland and require a holistic approach to tackle this challenge. The Scottish Government’s A Healthier Future strategy highlights the visions and ambitions of improving diet and health across our nation.

FDF Scotland and our members take the health of the Scottish people very seriously. Raising awareness of the issues can help, and product reformulation is rated as the most effective intervention industry can make to help target obesity.

Reformulation is a word that is used a lot in the food industry, but what does it actually mean? Simply put, it means making a product healthier. This might mean amending the recipe, providing clearer information on portion size or changing the way it is prepared.

Initially reformulation was about reducing specific food ingredients in a product – for example cutting the salt in products such as pasta sauces, stock cubes and savoury snacks; and minimising the sugar content in foods such as yoghurts, desserts and chocolate bars. But now food companies are also changing recipes to make them healthier by adding ingredients, such as fibre or vitamins, to everyday products like bread and cereal.

It sounds very simple, doesn’t it? But is isn’t!

Reformulation is actually a very challenging process. Food producers need to make sure their products still taste great, are cost effective and comply with food regulations. To support businesses to reformulate successfully involvement is needed from a variety of industry experts including research and development, food technology, nutrition and consumer insights.

When looking for ways to reformulate, each function of an ingredient must be considered. Sugar for example plays many different roles in a recipe - it gives the rise, colour and texture in a cake as well as adding flavour. Food and drink companies carrying out recipe reformulation take great care to ensure that these changes are made without compromising a food’s safety, quality or taste.

In Scotland, 95% of food and drink companies are small to medium businesses. It can be very difficult for them to grapple with all these challenges. It is vital that they do so – to help the nation’s health, to enhance Scotland’s reputation for food and drink, and to keep up with changing consumer tastes.

That is where I come in. The Scottish Government have funded my post, hosted in FDF Scotland, to help small to medium food companies make best use of the support that is available. I will work closely with each business individually to find a tailored solution to help their company based on the type of products they make, the resource they have and their situation. This may include helping the business to reduce fat, salt and sugars from their products; or it may involve increasing levels of fibre and nutrients within foods; or even looking at portion size and clearer labelling information.

To make a real difference, the whole food supply chain needs to get involved, from producers and retailers to consumers. We will create a network from across the food and drink sector in Scotland including food manufacturers, food service companies and retailers through to public-sector caterers. This will ensure we maximise our impact to improve the health of the people across Scotland.

The formula to the success of the reformulation project is our work with partnership organisations. We will be working closely with Scottish Government, Food Standards Scotland, Interface, Scottish Enterprise, Scotland Food & Drink, other trade associations and academia – to ensure we are able to reach as many businesses as possible.

In the next few months we will 
host a series of sector specific 
events for the food industry where businesses can meet with peers who have successfully reformulated and learn from academics and other agencies who can provide bespoke support.

If you work within a Scottish food business and want to be a step ahead – please get in touch with me through FDF Scotland – to learn how you can meet consumer demands for healthier products. To our partners and consumers – if you have any ideas on how to ensure we reach as many businesses as possible – please contact the team at FDF Scotland.

Joanne Burns, Reformulation Project Manager, Food and Drink Federation Scotland