From the summer, Mars, Snickers, Milky Way, Topic and Flyte will contain at least 15% less satfat per bar.
Mars bars will be reformulated first, with the first batch in production next week and expected to hit shelves by summer. The amount of satfat in each will drop from 5.9g to 4.8g. By comparison, a Wispa bar contains 8.1g of satfat.
Mars is replacing the cholesterol-raising fat with a healthier sunflower oil-based ingredient, and it claims the size, appearance and crucially taste will remain the same.
Fiona Dawson, MD of Mars Chocolate, said the reformulation process had taken five years to complete, at a cost of 10m (£9m). The move would not result in any price hikes though production would be costlier, she said. "If we could have reformulated faster we would have, but it would have compromised taste," she said.
The news follows the completion of the FSA's first consultation on its satfat recommendations. Barbara Gallani, director of food safety and science at the FDF, said that, compared with other foods, cutting satfat in chocolate was particularly challenging and Mars' achievement "could not be underestimated". "It is tougher to reduce satfat in chocolate than crisps and biscuits as European directives control the quantity of ingredients in chocolate so it can legally be called chocolate."
Dawson insisted that improving sales was not a motivating factor, despite sales of Mars bars falling 2.9% to £100.9m [Nielsen 52w/e 3 October].
But Mars' breakthrough comes three months after UB cut satfats across its leading McVitie's biscuits by 50% for a second time, just a year after its initial reduction. UB claimed healthier recipes helped sales of Digestives jump 10% to £33.3m, Hobnobs to grow 10% to £13.8m and Rich Tea to rise 7% to £21.3m [Nielsen 52w/e 10 October].
"Since the initial satfat reduction in early 2009 we have supported these brands through other initiatives but research tells us there has been an extremely positive consumer response," said Alice Cadman, head of strategic projects at UB.
Nestlé said it had "significantly" reduced satfat in Toffee Crisp, KitKat Chunky and Breakaway in the past nine years, while Cadbury was "looking into the feasibility" of reductions.
"Consumers tell us they understand chocolate is a treat and would rather eat it responsibly than have its appeal destroyed," said a spokesman.
Why does the FSA want to cut satfats? (analysis; 12 December 2009)
FSA’s satfat demands pose a calorie-cutting conundrum (8 August 2009)