Can You Have Your Cake & Eat it?

When the Government announced its 2017 commitment for Public Health England (PHE) to oversee a 20% sugar reduction programme, this challenged all sectors of the hospitality industry to introduce some significant product changes, all by 2020.

While the drive, which came as part of a wider programme to improve public health, has seen a reduction in sugar levels in 5 out of the 8 food categories, there is still a way to go in order to meet the 2020 targets. So, with this in mind, how can the casual dining and grab and go markets play their part, while maintaining their customer base? After working across popular casual dining chains as well as coffee shop brands to ensure they successfully meet the directive, Procure4’s Head of Food & Beverage Procurement, Hannah Kirton outlines her key recommendations to meet the government directive, while maintaining price point and a happy customer.

  1. Listen to the Consumer

The cake fridges, dessert menus and grab n go shelves are increasingly offering reduced sugar and lower calorie options, however this isn’t just in response to the government directive but also to meet the demands of the market.  Consumers are increasingly aware of the amount of sugar, additives and other ingredients going into their food, and therefore their bodies. 

As customers focus more and more on being healthy and changing their diet and exercise regimes, this focus is driving their buying habits. However, the reduced sugar/ lower calorie products are not always as healthy as they are perceived to be.  A ‘skinny’ blueberry muffin can have just as many calories as a regular chocolate muffin!  “Consumers have woken up to this marketing tactic, thus forcing retailers to up their game” Says Hannah. “In most coffee shop chains, we can now buy a wide range of perceived healthier snacks such as energy bars, protein bars, dried fruits, nuts, rice cakes, wafers and popcorn, which mostly have a lower sugar content, in a bid for retailers to meet consumer demand.”

  1. Work Together with Manufacturers

The advances in sugar replacements allows manufacturers greater scope when it comes to meeting the government directives. There are a wide variety of sugar replacement / alternative options available, from syrups (Agave, Maple) to plant extract such as Chicory Root and soluble fibres such as Wheat Dextrin, derived from starch.

Dermot Woods, Sales Manager at Silver Pail Dairy has been pleasantly surprised by the positive consumer reaction to sugar reduction taste tests. “We reduced the sugar content across our top five flavours by 20%, staying as close to the original recipe as possible and found customers preferred the more natural, authentic flavours of the reduced sugar product.”

While all sugar replacement options vary in how they can be applied in the manufacturing process, it’s important to understand sugar isn’t simply used for taste. Aside from enhancing sweetness and flavour, sugar is also used for colour, viscosity, slowing down the changes in the structure of protein, moisture retention, controlling water activity and incorporating air.  Therefore, to achieve a similar taste in the finished product, ingredients with the same qualities must be used to replace sugar.

While organisations such as the UK’s Food and Drink Federation (FDF) provide detailed information on the range of alternatives available and their recommended applications, finding an alternative to suit the product, the market and the price point is crucial. While the sugar reduction process is slowly becoming more cost effective, the sugar replacement ingredients are still generally more expensive than sugar itself.  “Research suggests consumers are starting to believe that the benefits of reduced sugar products outweigh the increase in prices” says Hannah, “However it is still a challenge for manufacturers and retailers to keep product prices as low as possible, which is why working closely together and carrying out independent taste tests is crucial.”

  1. Just Keep the Sugar Content

The PHE guidance to manufacturers and retailers also outlines the alternative options to sugar reduction available. By reducing the portion size, the original product recipe can remain unaltered, while the quantity of sugar per unit, and therefore the number of calories, is reduced. However, retailers need to be aware of potential consumer backlash if portion size if significantly reduced, a topic widely reported across cereals and chocolate bars. Alternatively, the consumption of mini cakes and desserts is on the rise, with miniature versions of popular treat marketed as a way to have your cake and eat it!

There is still the opinion that sugary treats are an indulgence, not to be consumed regularly and as such, when individuals do indulge, they want the full sugar taste. Some manufacturers and retail chains have chosen simply to reduce the sugar content as a percentage across a range or category of products. As a result, the more indulgent treats such as a millionaire’s shortbread would maintain its sugar content, while other products, such as muffins, will see a reduction in sugar and/or size.  Retailers can thereby offer a reduced sugar range of products which would allow them to meet the government directive buy reducing sugar as a percentage of the category.

“There are a number of options available to manufacturers and retailers when it comes to reducing sugar. The clients I’ve supported through the directive have successfully achieved this by working together with manufacturers and listening to the voice of the consumer. This really is the key to success” says Hannah.

For more information on how Procure4 can support your business manage the sugar reduction directive contact us at

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