Taxation has become a real threat hanging over food manufacturers’ heads as they scramble to meet further sugar and calorie reduction targets.

The current demands show that customers are looking for much cleaner labels, and campaigns have been introduced to encourage parents to choose healthier versions of the products they buy for their children.

After an unsuccessful attempt to achieve a 5% sugar reduction in five of the eight food groups in 2016, will manufacturers be able to meet these new reduction targets of 20%?

Manufacturers under pressure

Public Health England (PHE) have recently set the industry reduction targets for 2020 and 2024, with a 20% reduction in both sugar and calories. This has put manufacturers under more pressure to reformulate their food categories and products. A tax on foods that are high in fat, salt or sugar now looks inevitable.

Ambitious but achievable

Robert Lambert, head of marketing and communications at Ulrick and Short, says that the ingredients technology already exists, but there are often commercial limitations. He adds: “Sugar replacers, or at least good ones, demand a premium compared with the price of sugar. Taxation is a natural progression – however, it would be a big step.”

Bahar Yalcindag, technical director for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Tate & Lyle, agrees that firms will meet these targets, but opens up another matter: “Formulators have never had so many tools at their disposal to adapt a recipe for health but, then, we know that customers have never been more interested in what they’re eating… Formulation may be technically possible, but whether it’s acceptable to the consumer is another matter.”

It is predicted that consumers will want to see natural sweetener alternatives to sugar, especially in products aimed at children.

Avoiding sweeteners altogether?

Ingredients makers are all competing to meet the growing demand for natural ingredients. The Swiss flavours firm Givaudan recently launched a new approach to sugar reduction which removes a need for sweeteners altogether.

Nely Vlasblom, product manager for beverages at Givaudan explains: “We have been able to identify non-typical ingredients and food techniques that create a more complex, full-bodied or impactful tastes – flavours so good that the reduced sweetness wasn’t missed. It is in its early days, but we have already developed several consumer concepts, including a 50% reduced-sugar orange drink that performs as well as the full sugar product in consumer testing.”

With a few of the nine product categories expected to miss next year’s target of 20% sugar reduction, time will tell what the future holds for these targets.