PHE aims to remove 200,000 tonnes of sugar a year by 2020

Public Health England (PHE) has set out targets for the industry to shrink thousands of products, including chocolate bars, ice creams and yoghurts, in a bid to remove 200,000 tonnes of sugar per year from the UK diet by 2020.

The targets for a sweeping series of portion reductions came after six months of talks with nine key food sectors.

Under the proposed voluntary cap, the calories in a chocolate bar would have to duck under 200kcal, based on a sales-weighted average across a company’s products, although PHE is allowing a maximum of 250kcal to remain, the existing self-imposed limit already in place from manufacturers.

PHE has also published targets for a 5% baseline reduction in sugar across all the categories in year one of the programme and a 20% reduction by 2020.

It said companies can hit the target by reformulation or changing the emphasis in their product lineup to more healthy products.

However, portion reduction has emerged as by far the most likely vehicle for many of the key categories being linked with the childhood obesity crisis.

PHE said that chocolate bars and sweets would most likely have to shrink if they were to have any chance of meeting the targets, while portion reduction was also set out as a key mechanism for six other categories including cakes, morning foods and biscuits.

Under the plans, PHE is calling on yoghurt manufacturers to cut single-serve portion sizes to a sales weighted average of no more than 120kcal. It said such products currently ranged from 50kcal to 300 kcal.

Ice creams would also have to hit a sales-weighted average of 220kcal (325kcal max) and puddings 220kcal (450kcal max) in supermarkets, although PHE is allowing slightly bigger maximums for out-of-home companies for these and some other products.

Despite the talks being focused on sugar reduction, PHE said it had decided to use overall calorie intake as a guide to underpin its proposed new product sizes.

It had originally intended to use portion size caps for products like yoghurts based on the amount of sugar per 100g.

“Over the period of drafting the guidelines, there was a clear steer from the industry to move towards calories,” said PHE chief nutritionist Dr Alison Tedstone.

PHE, which has been tasked by government with bringing all sectors including the out-of-home (OOH) sector into line with the voluntary programme, admitted that it had been forced to rely on less reliable data for the OOH sector after encountering a lack of cooperation from many companies in the sector.

Last week The Grocer revealed PHE had met a wall of silence by many operators, including restaurants, cafés and takeaways, which meant it had been forced to launch the programme with big gaps in the data for OOH.

Tedstone said: “It’s clear that whilst some businesses understood their contribution, others still see out-of-home as an occasional treat.”

The BRC, Nestlé and health bodies have called on the government to turn to mandatory regulation to force the OOH sector to do more.

The figures released by PHE today show that for a raft of products the amount of calories in a typical portion in the OOH sector dwarfs that in supermarkets.

The average calories per portion in a chocolate bar in OOH is 274kcal, nearly 100 more than the average manufacturer’s product.

The figures was even worse when it came to puddings where the average in OOH was 447kcal, more than twice that found in supermarkets.

Tedstone said that while the data being used to measure OOH, which includes a mixture of NPD Crest Data and research done by PHE from company websites, was not as good as that being used for supermarkets and suppliers, it was still “good enough”.

“All parts of the food industry – manufacturers, retailers, takeaways, restaurants and cafés – need to step up. The guidelines are very stretching but manufacturers, for our part, are willing to take on the challenge,” said FDF director general Ian Wright.

PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie admitted the targets announced by the programme overall represented a “much bigger ask” than the previous industry salt reduction programme, on which it is modelled.

He said the process was “very much pro-business” and described the talks with industry as a “very positive experience”.

“Almost universally industry are saying it can be done,” he said.

However, members of the health lobby warned that without regulation to enforce the programme it was doomed to failure.

“We congratulate PHE’s tremendous achievement on setting coherent and achievable sugar reduction targets in such a short space of time,” said Action on Sugar chairman Graham MacGregor.

“However, the missing factor in this report is how these targets will be enforced. We’ve seen over recent weeks that some companies within the food and drink industry have made great progress while others are seriously lagging behind and others are claiming wrongly that they can’t do it.”