Confectionery is one of nine categories the UK has singled out to reduce sugar 20% by 2020 in a bid to curb childhood obesity.
The European confectionery association Caobisco says there are narrow margins to reduce sugar in confectionery and says the focus on a single nutrient is unhelpful in the fight against obesity. Its members are however exploring reducing portion sizes and giving clearer guidance.
Confectionery one of nine biggest contributors to child sugar intake
The UK government today published its voluntary guidance ‘Childhood Obesity – Plan for Action’, which encourages industry to cut sugar in food and drinks.
Childhood obesity in the UK
- Almost a third of children aged 2 to 15 overweight or obese
- More spent on treating obesity and diabetes than on fire service police and judicial system combined.
- £5.1bn ($6.7bn) spent on treating overweight and obesity-related ill-health in 2014/15 in England alone.
- Obesity rates highest among children from low-income families
[Source: UK government]
It plans to introduce a levy on soft drinks under the incoming Finance Bill 2017.
The UK government said in a Q&A on the soft drinks levy: "There are no current plans to introduce similar levies or expand this one to confectionery."
Confectionery is, however, one of nine categories that have been identified as among the biggest contributors to children’s sugar intakes.
These sectors are expected to lead a voluntary push to reduce sugar by at least 20% by 2020.
The 2020 target applies to the entire food and drink industry – retailers, manufacturers and food service included - but the UK government says confectionery, biscuits, cakes, morning goods (e.g. pastries), puddings, sweet spreads and ice cream will be its initial focus.
A 5% sugar reduction is expected in the first year.
Data for 2015 will be used as the baseline for measuring the reduction, and government agency Public Health England will review progress and publish interim reports every six months
Sugar targets and calorie caps
In March 2017 the government also plans to publish four-year category-specific sugar targets per 100 g and calorie caps for the nine sectors after it has consulted with Public Health England.
Nestlé, Mars and Mondelēz recently told this site the firms were prepared to discuss an industry-wide 250 calorie cap on single serve confectionery throughout Europe.
A voluntary 250 calorie cap already exists under the UK’s Public Health Responsibility Deal. Mars, Mondelēz and Nestlé are signatories to that pledge.
But it is as yet unknown if the 2017 calorie cap will go further than a 250 kcal limit per serving.
Many major confectionery brands already contain less than 250 calories per serving, but some companies were forced to axe king size products such as Cadbury’s Bar and a Half range following the 250 kcal pledge.
[Source: Company/brand websites]
The UK government will measure progress on cutting sugar by “reductions in the sales weighted average sugar content per 100 grams of food and drink, reductions in portion size so that these contain less sugar, or a clear sales shift towards lower sugar alternatives”.
Portion control focus
CAOBISCO has urged its members to implement at least one of its five ‘Menu of Options’ to engage in nutrition and health under the trade body’s position paper published in February.
The options include clearer labeling and responsible marketing to children, but its ‘Mindful Eating’ option, which focuses on reduced portion sizes, has been the centerpiece of major confectioners such as Ferrero, Mondelēz and Nestlé’s nutrition initiatives.
Narrow margins to reduce sugar
Sabine Nafziger, secretary general of CAOBISCO told ConfectioneryNews: “Focusing so strongly on the role of this single nutrient (sugar), when obesity is caused by excess calories from any nutrient, is not the most helpful approach.”
She said CAOBISCO’s members were working towards confectionery being enjoyed as part of a balanced diet and added that education was paramount.
Nafziger said “the margins for reducing sugar and fats in our products are extremely narrow”.
“So, while there is some room to look at existing or new recipes, our sector can certainly give a much more significant contribution through small portions.
“This can be done in various ways: Through individually wrapped portions inside multi-packs, through labels (with user-friendly representation of portions), through re-sealable packs, as well as through a correct way of advertising and marketing the products themselves," she said.
Nutrient Profiles to be renewed
The European Consumer Organization (BEUC) recently said restricting marketing to children was the primary health action EU consumers expect from the confectionery sector.
Extra marketing restrictions were not part of the UK government’s latest plans.
The UK does, however, plan to update its over 10 years old nutrient profiles for food and drink categories.
The profiles help identify which foods are considered healthy and unhealthy and are subject to advertising restrictions.
Products are assigned a score based on fat, sugar, salt, fruit, fiber, vegetable nut and protein content.
Visual sugar labeling incoming?
Following the UK’s decision to quit the European Union it is also considering going further on sugar labeling
“This might include clearer visual labeling, such as teaspoons of sugar, to show consumers about the sugar content in packaged food and drink,” it said.
The UK already has a voluntary traffic light labeling system that covers two thirds of products sold in the country. Manufacturers are also currently expected to list the total sugar content of foods.