Why is food reformulation being implemented?
On 19 December 2018, the National Reduction and Innovation Strategy for Sugar, Fats and Salt in Finished Products (NRI) of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture was adopted to achieve this goal in Germany. It is based on discussions involving representatives of the Federal Government and of associations and institutions from the fields of nutrition, health, the food industry, consumer protection and science.
There is agreement that it is important to
- promote a healthy lifestyle,
- reduce the proportion of overweight or obese people in the population (especially children and adolescents), and
- to reduce the incidence of non-communicable diseases contributed to by diet – e.g. cardiovascular diseases or type 2 diabetes mellitus.
This is to be achieved by optimising the nutritional composition of finished products – reformulation.
What is reformulation?
By definition, reformulation or reformulation is the“alteration of the formulation of industrially processed foods by reducing fat, salt, and sugar to increase their health value. ”
To this end, manufacturers of finished and semi-finished products rely on various measures. Numerous well-known producers have been working for years to improve the composition of their products from a nutritional point of view. Unhealthy ingredients in convenience foods such as pizza, breakfast cereals and fruit yogurts are gradually being reduced and in some cases replaced by other, more beneficial ones.
This is not always openly communicated. Some manufacturers use a “silent reformulation” because they are afraid that too much information about it might confuse consumers. Other companies, however, even advertise their recipe changes as ultimately benefiting customers.
Less is more: Reduction of unfavourable ingredients
By 2025, food associations want to implement jointly agreed processes and targets as part of the innovation strategy. For example, the Dairy Industry Association intends to reduce the total sugar content of sweetened children’s milk products by 15% compared to 2016. The background: Since the sense of taste is formed early in life, products for children are particularly in focus – the need for action was recognized. Several beverage companies are aiming to reduce the sugar content of their soft drinks by 15%. The pizza manufacturers united in the German Frozen Food Institute have agreed to reduce the salt content of their pizzas to an average of 1.25 grams per 100 grams.
Reformulation: a challenge for the food industry
More and more food producers are taking up the challenge of making their contribution to achieving the goals of the National Reduction and Innovation Strategy. One incentive for them is to optimise the NutriScore, introduced as a voluntary claim in Germany in 2020, for their products.
of their products.
The difficult task: The positive taste experience must be maintained despite recipe changes. However, as is well known, fat, sugar and salt are not only flavour carriers, but also influence the shelf life and consistency of food. So it takes a clever approach and a lot of trial and error to produce tasty, long-lasting finished products with a pleasant texture that consumers will accept. Different methods are used to reduce the three ingredients.
Reduction strategies: substitutes and innovative technologies
Fiber enrichment plays an important role in the reformulation of products. The reduction of fat, for example in sausage, can be compensated by replacing this ingredient. This is where vegetable fibers come into play to compensate for the loss of volume. This allows many products to be enriched without negatively affecting taste and consistency. The energy density in the diet decreases due to a high fiber content. This in turn has a positive effect on the Nutri-Score of the product in question.
For fat reduction, many manufacturers also use pulsed electric fields. The use of this process changes the surface properties of food, so that potato products, for example, absorb less fat when deep-fried. Alternatively, it is a good idea to use reduced-fat versions of ingredients such as cheese or milk powder.
Since the quality of the fats also has a decisive effect on the Nutri-Score, fats are sometimes replaced by others in the course of reformulation. For example, Radeberger Fleisch- und Wurstwaren Korch GmbH has added rapeseed oil and fat to its liver sausage instead of bacon. This preserves the typical creamy mouthfeel, while the unsaturated omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids improve the nutritional profile of the sausage.
Different paths lead to the goal
Technological processes such as high-pressure treatment can be used to influence the structure formation of foods so that they can bind water without the addition of salt, for example. Another way to reduce the salt content of products is to use ingredients with lower sodium content. In water-in-oil emulsions – for example mayonnaises, sauces and salad dressings – a reduction of the fat droplet diameter can be achieved by ultra-high pressure homogenization. The result: more stability with reduced fat content.
In order to achieve a sugar reduction, sugar substitutes, natural sweeteners or sweeteners are often used. However, special microorganisms can also be used to reduce the sugar content of food by means of fermentation.
The use of coated sugar or salt can also reduce the sugar/salt content of foods, by changing the degree of distribution in the product. The coating encloses the sugar or salt crystals. This releases the flavour specifically when the product is consumed and less sugar or salt needs to be used for the same great taste experience. In the case of products with reduced salt content, the perceived salt taste can also be positively influenced by the simultaneous perception of other basic tastes.
The potential of multisensory effects in reformulation is high. Continuous research and further development of procedures will certainly produce many new findings and methods in the future.
The supermarket chain Kaufland has been reducing sugar, salt and fat in products of its own brand K-Classic since 2015. The company emphasizes that it is a pure reduction without the use of substitutes such as sweeteners. So that the enjoyment does not suffer from this, new recipes have to be fiddled with for a long time. A team of experts takes care of recipe adjustments for around 300 articles in the Kaufland range.
Other retailers are also reacting and making adjustments to their products. REWE, for example, has reduced the sugar content of chocolate puddings in response to customer wishes. REWE also committed itself to reducing the sugar and salt content of at least 50 % of relevant private label items such as ice cream, cereals, bread and beverages. Lidl aims to reduce the sugar and salt content of its own-brand products by 20% by 2025. Aldi also announced a sugar reduction.
Change recipes in a planned manner in the interests of consumer acceptance
The food industry is constantly developing its products to meet nutritional trends and consumer demands. Recipes are therefore adjusted from time to time. However, serious sensory or technological losses should be avoided when reformulating products.
In general, it is advisable for manufacturers to proceed gradually in order to slowly accustom consumers to a new taste, a different appearance and/or a changed mouthfeel. Also, the shelf life should be similar to the already known finished product. If the producer implements a major change too quickly, the consumer will not accept the product and it will remain on the shelf. In order to convince him and not overwhelm him, the adjustment of the recipe often has to be done gradually. After all, it is the customer who ultimately makes the buying decision.