The government body released its report ‘Sugar Reduction: Achieving the 20%', which sets portion size and sugar reduction guidance for the top nine food categories in a bid to curb childhood obesity.
These foods – including chocolate confectionery and sweet confectionery - contribute most to children’s sugar intakes and are advised to cut sugar by at least 20% by 2020, including a 5% reduction in the first year, says PHE.
It has set voluntary sugar targets for chocolate and candy as follows:
The guidelines apply to all UK businesses, including SMEs. Seasonal products such as Easter eggs and chocolate produced for Christmas and Halloween are covered by the PHE guidelines.
The categories covered: Biscuits; breakfast cereals; cakes; chocolate confectionery; ice cream, lollies and sorbets; morning goods (e.g. pastries, buns and waffles); puddings (including pies and tarts); sweet confectionery; sweet spreads and sauces; and yogurt and fromage frais.
Portion size reduction
The report suggested reducing portion size is the best way to achieve sugar reduction for chocolate and candy rather than reformulation or shifting purchasing towards lower sugar alternatives.
“In chocolate and sweet confectionery there may be limited scope for reformulation, but there are opportunities to reduce the calories coming from products likely to be consumed by an individual at one time,” it said.
Some UK national press have focused their reports on the PHEs guidelines with news that chocolate bars may become smaller.
Chocolate confectionery in the UK currently has an average portion size of 44g and contains an average sugar content of 54.6g per 100g with 197 calories per portion, according to PHE.
Retailer private label contains less sugar per 100g (51.4g) on average, compared to brands from manufacturers (51.4g), it said.
A UK Cadbury Dairy Milk single serve bar today contains 56 g of sugar per 100 g, while a single-serve UK Mars bar has 59.9 g of sugar per 100 g.
Sweet confectionery products in the UK currently have average sugar content of 60.6g per 100g and 166 calories per portion with an average portion size of 55 g, according to PHE.
What about biscuits?
Biscuits are one of nine categories subject to the voluntary sugar reduction guidelines. The category covers two-finger KitKats and Penguin bars, but all other similar wrapped bars containing biscuits and larger KitKat SKUs are classed as chocolate confectionery. Biscuits are expected to reduce sugar as follows:
Sugar-free sweets and chewing gum excluded
Sugar free candy and chewing gum was excluded from the PHE’s voluntary targets.
“While this was not something that was originally proposed in the category-specific meetings it is something that was highlighted in feedback from industry,” said the report.
“The majority of sugar free sweets and gum are mints that are eaten in a different way to other sweets, for example, one or two at a time to freshen breath rather than eating the whole roll or bag,” it continued.
However, it suggested alternative sweeteners may not be the best way to combat obesity.
“There may be advantages in businesses not adding sweeteners to their products and gradually reducing the overall sweetness of their products because this allows for people’s palates to gradually adjust to less sweet foods,” it said.
Chocolate and candy's contribution to sugar intake
The report defines sugar as all sugars added to foods plus those naturally present in fruit juices, syrups and honey. It does not include the sugars naturally present in intact fruit and vegetables or milk and dairy products.
Baseline sugar levels per 100g in each category are based on data from 2015.
Data from the UK’s 2012-14 National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) suggests chocolate confectionery is the third biggest contributor to total sugar intakes among children aged 11-18, behind soft drinks and fruit juice & smoothies.
Contribution of total sugars in the diet
Children aged 4-10 years (%)
Children aged 11-18 years (%)
Adults aged 19-64 years (%)
Source: 2012-14 National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS)
PHE scrapped guidelines for new product development for the nine categories as had been originally proposed. The idea was support by NGOs but was seen as a barrier to innovation by businesses.
FDF and Action on Sugar react
The food industry and NGOs consulted the government on the guidelines.
Ian Wright, CBE, director general of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), whose members include Mars and Nestlé, said the trade body supported the government’s “highly ambitious sugars reduction drive”.
Graham MacGregor, professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London, and chairman of lobby group Action on Sugar, also welcomed the PHE's guidelines.
"However, the missing factor in this report is how these targets will be enforced...
"If these recalcitrant companies don’t comply we need Theresa May [British prime minister] to bring in tough measures to ensure compliance and put public health first before the profits of the food industry," he said.