Why I care about food reformulation (and you should too!)

Published: 07/03/2022

Food and drink companies have been proactively investing in food reformulation and innovation for many years. We as consumers are truly driving the demand.

At the beginning of this year, I joined FoodDrinkEurope as Manager Nutrition & Health. Little did I know that food and drink companies are doing so much on product reformulation and innovation. Not only are these voluntary initiatives being taken on by companies, but increasingly more EU Member States sign agreements with national food and drink industry federations to improve the nutritional composition of food and drink products. Some examples can be found here and here.

When I go to the supermarket, it is refreshing to regularly spot improved products on the shelfs. But I do always wonder why companies reformulate their products. Does it have to do with functionality, palatability, or something else? I would like to dig deeper into this topic and, specifically, explain why food reformulation is essential to maintain balanced, nutritious, and sustainable diets. Let’s first start off with the basics of what and why?

Reformulation is essentially a way to redesign the composition of food and drink products with the ultimate goal to enhance the nutrient density.

This can either be done by changing an existing recipe or by developing a new innovative product. Usually, the objective is to decrease salt, sugars, and fat content and to increase fibre, wholegrain, fruit and vegetable content to help consumers better balance their diets.

Having a balanced diet is not only contributing to improved physical health, but it is also supporting our mental health. Many studies have shown the positive relationship between a healthy diet and our mental well-being. Every now and then, we all want to indulge in some of our favourite foods, but to sustain a healthy lifestyle in the long run, food reformulation can help. In fact, by optimising the nutritional content, food and drink companies are trying to help consumers to live healthier lives, while still being able to enjoy our favourite foods and drinks.

Reformulation is high on the EU political agenda. With the EU Farm to Fork Strategy launched back in May 2020, the European Commission is aiming to make a shift towards more sustainable, healthier and more balanced diets and lifestyles. The Food Information to Consumers Regulation is currently being revised to propose harmonised EU-wide front-of-pack nutritional labelling. In addition to the policy developments at EU and international level, there are also proactive initiatives being undertaken at industry level.

At FoodDrinkEurope, we acknowledge the important role and responsibility of food and drinks producers in promoting more balanced diets and healthy lifestyles. In this respect, we reiterate our support and commitment towards developing and implementing initiatives to address today’s public health challenges in the area of nutrition.

As for the industry initiatives, in July 2021, the EU Code of Conduct on Responsible Food Business and Marketing Practices was launched, which aims to help all stakeholders between “the farm” and “the fork” to tangibly improve their sustainability performance.

FoodDrinkEurope led the development of the Code and is one of the co-signatories. The Code includes various actions and commitments, including to improve food consumption patterns. More specifically, one of the actions is to: improve, where feasible, the nutritional composition and environmental footprint of food products/meals, e.g. through product reformulation and new product development / innovation.” Another action targets increased consumption of certain food categories, such as wholegrain, fibre, nuts, and legumes.

This is a clear example of a proactive industry commitment which aims to actively contribute to the transition towards more sustainable and healthier food systems in the EU.

In the end, product reformulation and innovation not only enhance the nutritional composition; it can also help to decrease the environmental impact of food production.

Last year, FoodDrinkEurope conducted a series of listening exercises focused on the future of food. This year, we are continuing this #FoodFuture exercise and we are developing an internal action plan on sustainable food systems. Nutrition being one of our focus areas, we would like to propose clear, tangible, and proactive industry actions in the field of nutrition.

I do believe that the food and drink sector can play a huge role and I am excited to be part of this journey at FoodDrinkEurope. We are a transformational agent and a partner of the EU institutions and all stakeholders in this transition towards healthier and more sustainable food systems in Europe. I look forward to seeing what the industry will achieve as the leader towards positive change.

By Bo Dohmen

Manager, Nutrition & Health