It’s almost seven years since the now defunct PHE set retailers and suppliers a voluntary target to slash 20% of sugar from their products by 2020.

Not only was that target missed, but a damning report from its successor the Office for Health Improvement in December revealed the amount of sugar sold in the products covered by the programme had increased by 7% in the period. That equates to an extra 50,000 tonnes of the stuff sold per year compared to the baseline.

It provoked the ire of health campaigners. And today, they stepped up their calls for action following a series of government backtracks on its obesity strategy.

A report by Action on Sugar and Feedback heaped criticism on the UK’s leading supermarkets for failing to do enough to reduce sugar.

Supermarkets, it claims, are keen to show they are becoming healthier, yet none of them are willing to publicly support mandatory reduction targets to reduce the volume of sugar they sell.

Just one major retailer – Morrisons – has any sort of target to reduce sugar, the study finds.

But are the campaigners picking on the right targets?

Let’s not forget, December’s report went beyond the failure to meet the ambitious, arguably pie-in-the-sky, 20% target. It also showed manufacturers and retailers had achieved a 3.5% reduction in the sales weighted average total sugar per 100g in products sold between 2015 and 2020.

That came in contrast to the out-of-home sector. Not only was a sales weighted average unavailable because of a lack of data, even the best guess using a simple average showed just a 0.2% reduction between 2017 and 2020.

In other words, supermarkets and suppliers are moving nearly 20 times faster on reformulation than takeaways, restaurants and foodservice providers.

Today another report, this time from the industry itself, also demonstrates the vast gulf in reformulation when comparing different types of companies.

Using figures from Kantar, the FDF revealed the “success” its members have had in reducing HFSS ingredients from their products.

Compared to eight years ago, it found there were 13% fewer calories, 15% fewer sugars and 24% less salt in the average shopping basket.

However, the report revealed progress was much slower – four times slower, to be precise – among smaller companies. These happen to make up a whopping 97% of food companies.

Surely there is a message here for the government when considering a meaningful new strategy on the obesity crisis, which National Food Strategy author Henry Dimbleby recently described as a “ticking timebomb”?

Nobody is suggesting the spotlight should be taken off the supermarkets and major suppliers. Indeed, reports like that from Action on Sugar, and pressure from sources such as ShareAction, ensure they are continuing to face calls to go further from outside and within their own shareholder base.

It’s the long tail of smaller suppliers, however, and the equally vast array of SMEs in the out-of-home sector, who are clearly floundering the most. They lack the incentives, manpower and, at the end of the day, the money needed to invest in making their products healthier.

Yes, supermarkets can play a role in heaping pressure on their supply chain and giving preference to companies that have reformulated. But do we really want to give even more of an advantage to the big companies over smaller rivals?

Instead, as the FDF suggests today, the UK government should look to its Scottish counterpart for a way forward.

Since launching in 2019, Scotland’s Reformulation for Health programme has awarded more than 30 companies substantial funds to help with reformulation.

The sort of money we are talking about isn’t going to move the dial with a Nestlé or a Tesco. But for a small manufacturer, grants around the £5,000 mark can go a long way towards paying for the research or analysis they need – especially if it is teamed with co-ordinated support and advice.

There has been so much talk about obesity under the current government and such little action. Perhaps it’s time to start getting on with some more practical steps such as these. While they perhaps lack the big soundbite potential, they may actually start getting some results.