“For too long our industry has been focused on the mantra that we need to look at the lifestyle not only the diet," said executive vice president of Nestlé and director for Europe, Middle East and North Africa Marco Settembri. "This may well be true but when one in three children is overweight or obese, we need to look at ourselves and agree that we have to do a much better job,” he said, adding this is equivalent to five billion sugar cubes.
This will be achieved in a number of ways.
For instance, the company recently filed a patent for a natural method to structure sugar differently, allowing for up to 40% reductions in sugar content in chocolate and confectionery without impacting taste. The "completely new” method restructures sugar particles so they are hollow and will be rolled out in 2018.
It will also continue to favour downsizing - or "rightsizing" - products portions. For example, in the UK, it shrunk the size of an Aero chocolate bar from 41 grams (g) to 36 g with a 12% sugar reduction, and reduced Yorkie bars from 53 g to 44 g for a 17% sugar reduction.
"Another solution is to replace sugar by other natural ingredients such as fibre. It is an important challenge to keep a clean label but this is what our consumers expect from us. Using stevia, the sugar level of Nestea has been reduced by 30% in many European markets," Bart Vandewaetere, head of relations with European institutions at Nestle, told FoodNavigator.
"Additional technical solutions are under evaluation. All this requires a strong investment in science and innovation in order to maintain the sensory profile and guide the consumers towards a less sweet taste."
The spokesperson did not give a breakdown for the above strategies but said this European sugar reduction pledge is part of a larger set of global commitments to be announced by the Swiss firm on 7 March.
Level the playing field
The main challenge for the company, as it sees it, is making reformulation commitments without the guarantee of operating on a level playing field.
"We know Nestlé products represent 3-4% of retailers’ food shelves," Vandewaetere said. "So, we need our competitors to join the evolution towards less sugar and a less sweet taste. We would like to work collaboratively to achieve a level playing field, which will create competition on health, will bring down average sugar
levels in the market and ultimately benefit the individuals that purchase our foods and beverages.
"We are therefore working in organisations such as the Consumer Goods Forum and trade associations to try and convince our peers to move as an industry. However, to establish a true level playing field we would need public authorities involved to create the right framework."
The company, which has in the past called for a common EU-wide nutrition policy, said it wanted to support the European Commission and member states who are to develop action plans on food product improvement by the end of the year. "This is a unique opportunity to set up one European framework, one European playing field. This will “stimulate innovation and lead to a healthier future for Europe,” said Settembri.
Nestlé has its own Nutritional Profiling System and aligns reformulation targets for sugar, salt and fat reduction with this.