Sugar is currently public enemy number one. We can’t get away from the fact that we need to eat less of it. This week Action on Sugar has called for government targets to be set on 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, and it’s incredibly difficult to persuade people to compromise. So if we want to tackle the sugar crisis, the food and drink industry has little choice but to play its part. The message from the general public is clear: 77 per cent feel that manufacturers should be doing more to reduce the amount of sugar in our food.
But cutting sugar from your products is easier said than done – it can take a lot of fine tuning to get it right. You also need to keep testing new versions against your competitors’ products, so that 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 doesn’t just affect sweetness; it can also lead to bitterness and astringent mouth feel. Don’t be disheartened though: it is possible to create products with reduced sugar which measure up to customers’ expectations. It just takes time and expertise.
That this is a complicated process means that it’s best carried out gradually. If you reduce sugar slowly over a reasonable period of time then consumers are less likely to notice the change. Taste buds have already adjusted to food with less salt, and the hope is that 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 food and drink 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, a market research consultancy that carries out sensory food and drink testing for manufacturers