Sugar is currently public enemy number one. This week Action on Sugar has called for government targets to be set for reducing the amount of sugar in all food and drinks through reformulation, and this could well form part of the government’s strategy on childhood obesity due in early 2016. It looks like reformulation is set to become a much more significant part of the story on sugar.
It’s clear that customers will not simply change their habits. Most of us just like the taste of sugary foods too much.
So if we want to tackle the sugar crisis, the food & drink industry has little choice but to play its part. The message from the general public is clear: 77% feel manufacturers should be doing more to reduce the amount of sugar in our food.
But cutting sugar from products is easier said than done - it can take a lot of finetuning to get it right. You also need to keep testing new versions against your competitors’ products, so you ensure you’re not changing too much too quickly and leaving yourself at a disadvantage.
But with any change you make you risk alienating customers. Reducing sugar can lead to bitterness and astringent mouthfeel.
Don’t be disheartened, though: it is possible to create products with reduced sugar that measure up to customers’ expectations. It just takes time and expertise.
That this is a complicated process means it’s best carried out gradually. If you reduce sugar slowly over a reasonable period consumers are less likely to notice the change. Tastebuds have already adjusted to food with less salt, and the hope is the nation’s sweet tooth could also be gradually tempered.
As tempting as it may be for manufacturers to avoid the issue until forced into action by legislation, there are advantages to being an early adopter.
Taking action early gives you the chance to do things properly, on your own clock. It gives you the flexibility to work with a specialist in flavour and texture to make sure you really understand which formulations work and which don’t. If the industry does have to bear the brunt of the change, it should at least do so on its own terms.
Anna Herron is a director at Marketing Sciences Unlimited