Tackling obesity and addressing inequality: FDF Scotland calls on SME’s to join the reformulation challenge

This content item was originally published on www.bakeryandsnacks.com, a William Reed online publication.

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags reformulation

‘We know from evidence that measures to transform the food environment are more likely to be effective in improving diet – and reduce health inequalities – than measures aimed at encouraging individuals to change their behavior, said Scotland’s Minister for Public Health and Women’s Health Jenni Minto.

Recipe reformulation is rated one of the most effective ways the food industry can help improve the dietary health of consumers and in doing so, also helps to address inequality.


The impacts of a poor diet are profound – costing the economy around £5.3 billion in 2022 –the call for action to address diet-related illness has never been stronger.

Like Minister Minto, Food Standards Scotland’s (FSS) Laura Wilson believes changing the food environment rather than individuals is more effective – with many outcomes.

“Reformulation is about changing that environment,” she told guests at this year’s Reformulation and Innovation for Health celebration, hosted by FDF Scotland and Interface at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh.


“Improving the nutrient profile of everyday food and drinks means that people will make healthier choices without them actually needing to make a consciously different choice.

“That’s really important and also means it’s a more equitable impact. The changes happen regardless of income, education and ethnicity.”

But to motivate manufacturers to reformulate means they must see “a positive business driver,” said Joanne Burns, Reformulation for Health manager.

One of the biggest hurdles of reformulation are the costs involved to test new ingredients, amend processes and so on. This is where FDF Scotland’s Reformulation for Health program comes to the fore.

“We’ve received $289,000 worth of funding from our funding partners to support Scotland’s F&B industry to make products and people healthier,” said Burns.

Small swops: big results

Obesity snacks sam thomas
Pic: GettyImages/Sam Thomas

The results speak for themselves. Over the past five years, the program has removed more than 880 million calories from pastry and pie products, 9 tonnes of salt from pie shells, reduced the fat content in black pudding by 30%, along with 109 million fewer calories in macaroni cheese, among other reductions.

Although not personally present at the event, Minister Jenni Minto opened the proceedings via video, noting, “Reformulation is a fascinating way to improve the health properties of the foods and drink we consume regularly.

Laura Wilson
FSS' Laura Wilson

“It’s incredibly encouraging to see how small changes to existing recipes can help us to progress towards meeting Scottish dietary goals and the UK-wide targets for salt and sugar reduction. We know from evidence that measures to transform the food environment are more likely to be affected in improving diet and reducing health inequalities than measures aimed at encouraging individuals to change their behavior.”

In her presentation, FSS’s Health of Public Health Nutrition Laura Wilson said Scots eat way too many calories.

Dzeti Tait, technical sales manager, Saltsmith
Dzeti Tait, technical sales manager, Saltsmith

“From the Scottish Health survey data – last collected in 2021 – we know that discretionary products (such as cakes, pastries, biscuits and sugary drinks) make up around 15% of the calories we consume,” she said.

The same group of products also account for 17% of fats and 38% of sugar of the daily diet. Meanwhile, only one in five adults eats the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and only 6% consume the recommended intake of fiber.

“One of the major areas of concern in Scotland is our high levels of overweight and obesity,” said Wilson.

“Our rates here are higher than all of the UK home nations and unfortunately, they continue to be a widening of inequality … we see much higher rates of overweight and obesity of those living in poorer communities. That’s the same for children as well as for adults.

To explain this, Wilson said, “we know that what surrounds us shapes us. People who live in areas of poverty are most likely to be surrounded by areas where food is [typically] high in fat, sugar and salt. So, it’s not surprising that it is more difficult for them to consume healthier foods and drinks. And this is a concern considering the cost not just to the NHS, but the wider economy, which was estimated to be more than £5.3 billion in 2022.”

So why reformulation?

Crazy mathematician reformulation Getty
Pic: GettyImages

While “it’s well established that no one policy or intervention can fix this issue – changes at multitude of levels needs to happen to really make a difference,” said Wilson.

Lesley Ann Gray, strategic insight director, Scotland, Kantar
Lesley Anne Gray, strategic insight director, Scotland, Kantar

One “that’s had the greatest level of success” is the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, introduced in 2018 and to-date the only aspect of the UK reformulation program​ that’s mandatory.

“There’s a lot of elements [illustrating] how effective it’s been at achieving reformulation at scale: with a 46% reduction in retailer and manufactured drinks to meet the levy,” said Wilson.

Recent research has also showed “a positive impact both on reducing levels of overweight and obesity in teenage girls and reducing the instance of dental cases in children, too. And this has been achieved alongside increased sales of soft drinks. So, no negative long term impact on soft drinks companies.”

As such, Wilson said FSS “would welcome and support further mandatory action in this space.”

Reformulation for Health program

Harriet Heath, Reformulation for Health executive, Gary Maclean and Joanne Burns
Harriet Heath, Reformulation for Health executive, Scotland's national chef Gary Maclean and Joanne Burns, Reformulation for Health manager

The Scottish Government – like the UK – is putting its might in tackling the growing obesity crisis. The Reformulation for Health program was launched in 2019 to “support Scottish SMEs to reformulate commonly consumed products to improve the health of Scottish people,”​said Joanne Burns.

“The F&B manufacturing industry is Scotland’s largest manufacturing sector, employing over 48,00 people in communities across the country and with an annual turnover of $10.3 billion.

Joanne Burns
Joanne Burns

She continued, “95% of the food manufacturers in Scotland are SME [small to medium sized businesses], so that really highlights the scope of businesses that are eligible to work with. Our work is free for all – anyone can access our materials – not just FDF members.”

Support for the industry includes podcasts, webinars, quarterly upskilling campaigns, advice and guidance, student partnerships, guides and industry fact sheets, along with access to the Reformulat8 Partnership, a network of 66 committed organizations active in a variety of areas of the reformulation process.

The onus of reformulation “shouldn’t solely sit in the shoulders of food manufacturers,” said Burns. “We needed to engage and collaborate with Scotland's whole food system to support positive reformulation outcomes. We have people from ingredient producers to food manufacturers, to academia partners and NGOs working with us in the Reformul8 partnership.”

The 8 elements of the Reformulation for Health program

Reformulation principles

While no two reformulation projects are the same – some may be as simple as replacing salt for a low sodium alternative, while others may utilize multiple principles – one of the biggest hurdles of reformulation are the costs involved to trial recipes and process changes, improve production capacity, nutritional testing, technical support and so on.

“We’ve received $289,000 worth of funding from our funding partners to support Scotland’s F&B industry to make products and people healthier,” said Burns.

Gary Maclean
Gary Maclean

Launched in 2023, the Healthier Bakery Fund​ has provided $50k of funding to 13 Scottish bakers. The Healthier Product Innovation Fund – developed in partnership with Interface – provided £80k of funding help Scottish businesses utilize the knowledge base and facilities of the country’s universities, research institutes and colleges. Four rounds of the Reformul8 Challenge Fund have been delivered with $159k of funding for 60 projects, including the most recent cohort, announced at the Reformulation and Innovation for Health event.

Gary Maclean, Scotland’s national chef – and winner of Masterchef: The Professionals in 2016 – was on hand to announce the 14 businesses that were successful in their bid. Each will receive up to £5,000 to help kickstart a range of projects focused on decreasing fat in savory pastries to reducing sugar in baked treats.

The businesses include:

  • Cooper Butchers
  • Equi’s Ice Cream
  • Edinburgh Community Food
  • Arsj Holding Ltd
  • Saltire Patisserie Ltd
  • Schoolyard Chillies
  • Fodilicious Ltd
  • Bon Accord Soft Drinks
  • Macsween of Edinburgh
  • Simon Howie Foods
  • Malcolm Allan
  • Three Robins Limited
  • Luscious Lovelies Cakes
  • Brose Oats

“Over the past few years, I’ve actually found myself doing some of my own reformulating,” said Chef Maclean.

“I’ve been looking at recipes that I’ve used for over 30 years and thinking, really, do we need that amount of sugar or fat? I’ve also written a few cookbooks and the majority of those books are all about safeguarding Scotland's amazing traditional recipes. I haven’t put on the cover that [the recipes] are low fat, low salt, low sugar, but all of them are. Times have changed and people’s tastes have changed.”

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