Public Health England has released its first report on the progress made by supermarkets and manufacturers in reducing sugar in their products as part of a long-term effort to tackle obesity. Our company nutritionist Julie Dean explains the actions we’re taking to reduce sugar in Asda products and help customers make healthier choices.
We take our responsibilities as a retailer seriously – with 18 million customers shopping with us each week, we know that we can do a lot to help them have a varied diet.
We’ve been driving sugar reduction for a long time, in a variety of products ranging from breakfast cereals to cakes and confectionary, and in 2016 PHE introduced a target to reduce the amount of sugar that retailers sell.
Although we’ve been working on sugar reduction for a long time, we welcomed the targets set by PHE as it’s been really useful to have clear, shared goals to help tackle childhood obesity in addition to our own journey to provide healthy choices for our customers.
To ensure our actions have the maximum impact, we’ve been focussing on foods that our customers eat day in, day out – things like our breakfast cereals, morning goods, yogurts and biscuits – and we are proud that in 2017 we reformulated our own-brand products to remove 2,470 tonnes of sugar, 175 tonnes of saturated fat and 50 tonnes of salt.
Overall we removed 14 billion calories from our products last year.
Reformulation is, however, a lengthy process that takes several months for each product. It’s really important that we make the right changes and don’t negatively impact the great taste of products that people love.
Often, we have to go back and forth on a recipe – looking at how we can balance the ingredients and the flavour to get the best result. For example, we’ve reduced the added sugar content in our fruited scones by 67% by looking at the balance of sugar, flour and butter.
We work closely with our suppliers to make small, incremental changes and conduct sensory tests with suppliers, our internal teams and panels of testers to see if people spot a difference between the existing and the reduced-sugar product. We want to make sure that healthier options remain just as tasty because it is important to our customers that they can continue to enjoy the products we all love.
We’ve had a lot of other success reformulating other own-brand products too. For example we've reduced the average sugar content of our cereals by 20% with 11 teaspoons of sugar removed from each pack of our own-brand Golden Balls and Bran Flakes cereals and there have been further reductions across our range.
Around 15% of sugar has been removed from our yogurts, biscuits and morning goods and we are making steady progress across all other categories.
You may notice that the numbers reported by PHE look different to this.
There are a few reasons for this. The first is that PHE's report is based on the products we were selling up until August 2017, and we’ve made significant progress since they recorded that data. And we're not finished yet – we've got lots of innovative plans in the pipeline to continue reducing the sugar content of our products.
Additionally, it can be tricky to see how much sugar we have removed in real terms when the PHE report looks at sales weighted averages – the average sugar content of a food category by taking into account both the sugar content of the products and the amount of products in that category that we sell.
A higher weighting is given to products that sell more, which can impact the way the numbers look. For example, we've reduced the sugar content of our own-brand breakfast cereals by 20%, but the sales weighted average quoted by PHE has only reduced by 7.9% as customers are buying more of our own-label cereals.
We’ll have progress to report over the months ahead as we continue to drive sugar and calorie reduction and improve the health credentials of our products to help us meet our goals and go further.