There’s lots in the news about obesity and the need for change in consumer eating behaviours and attitudes. However, we know that a lot of consumers expect manufacturers to take responsibility for making their products healthier. For example, 77% of consumers think that manufacturers should do more to reduce the amount of sugar in food & drink. This is why we are often working with major food manufacturers on the challenge of reformulating to create a healthier product.
In most cases manufacturers wish to create a healthier product, but don’t intend to communicate the change for fear of raising concerns over taste delivery. Most current buyers like their product the way it is! Therefore, often successful reformulation is a reduction in sugar, salt or fat without existing consumers noticing a change in the product.
Here lies the challenge!
It is our role at Marketing Sciences to help brands make changes that consumers won’t notice. There are no hard and fast rules about how much sugar or fat can be removed from a product. Hence the need to research all reformulations with consumers – the potential of alienating current users of a product is far too important to risk.
Fat, sugar & salt all have a huge impact on both how a food tastes and how it all holds together as they are often binding ingredients too. They affect the way in which other flavours come across, that replacements or reductions cannot necessarily do in the same way.
Sweeteners, both artificial and natural such as Steviols, often have flavours or aftertastes that will need to be counteracted by other ingredients. For example, we recently conducted research on products with sugar, without sugar and with sweeteners – this demonstrated that taste and mouth-feel (texture) were most affected, especially the quality of sweetness, bitterness and astringent mouth-feel.
Fat affects mouth-feel, texture and body perhaps more than actual flavour. It affects the depth of flavour perceived so fat-free appears generally to be less rounded – however there are ‘body’ enhancers available now (eg. Malto-dextrins). These can put missing body back in Free From products (especially alcohol-free beer for example).
Making reductions in small steps over time allows current users to become accustomed to the new taste rather than noticing a sudden change. However, there is still a risk here – ‘incremental degradation’, i.e. a series of reformulations over time result in a significant reduction of quality and product enjoyment.
Even with these challenges in mind we’ve still worked with clients on creating highly appealing ‘reduced…’ products. For example, while we often find sugar free products are rated c10% lower than their full sugar equivalent, there are instances where reduced sugar products have tested equally appealing to their full sugar counterparts in research.
A HIGH PROFILE ISSUE
The topic of reformulation and sugar reduction is one that is attracting a lot of attention at the moment. We recently featured on The Victoria Derbyshire Show and the BBC News Website discussing this very issue. Please have a read more about our mainstream media appearance here . We also recently appeared on The One Show where 5 million viewers listened to Becki Arnold discuss sugar reduction with the presenter.