Food Nutritionals- great expectations and declarations

The National Centre for Food Manufacturing (NCFM) is currently working with a number small medium enterprises (SME’s) in the food industry supporting them to incorporate nutritional information in their menu items. Our work has assisted in nutritional calculation and provision of nutrition information including allergen information, Ingredient list, daily intake values and the ‘traffic light.’ Nutrition Facts Information (NFI). Such insight into menus and food offers can improve business outlook and stimulate innovations, examples of these are reported here.

Eating a balanced diet is vital for good health and well-being. Food provides the necessary energy, protein, essential fats, vitamins and minerals needed by the body to function well. When food is in abundance in terms of variety, quality and availability, it is the choice the consumer makes that determines the nutritional quality of their diets. What you eat maximises your health, reducing risk of disease including chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cancer. The escalating incidences of overweight and obesity related health problems has established a global imperative for changing nutrition and dietary patterns (see reference). With this in mind, many food manufacturers, policy makers and stakeholders have made meeting nutritional values a very important consideration when advancing food product development protocols and as a consequence nutritional values are now a mandatory requirement on labels of all food products in the UK and Europe under EU Regulation No. 1169/2011.

Consumer product knowledge is paramount because this has impacted on food product choice. It has been suggested that people who read nutritional information on food labels are likely to attach a higher level of importance to nutrition and influence family preferences. New Product Development and reformulation of existing products has been heavily influenced by consumer trends that have veered towards lowering sugar, salt, carbohydrate and fat in food products. This has challenged the typical view of healthy food and prompted the food industry to quickly adapt and produce food items that are focused on health and nutrition promotion using ingredients that have low calorific values to meet consumer demand (See reference).

Menu development and recipe formulation has become a new frontier where nutritionals are influencing consumer choice. This has encouraged chefs and culinary experts to adapt and start using new cooking techniques and novel ingredients in order to stay relevant and also maintain a competitive edge in their food businesses. Calorie count has become a topical issue with governmental bodies, stakeholders and the food arena at large joining hands in ensuring that all food products offered in the market contain nutrition guidelines that help consumers make informed choices when purchasing food items. Additionally, there has been a link between nutrition information and health with governmental bodies encouraging consumers to maintain the daily recommended intake allowances for both children and adults.

The National Centre for Food Manufacturing (NCFM) is currently working with small medium enterprises (SME’s) in the food industry in trying to encourage them to incorporate nutritional information in their menu items. An appropriate software with a wide database has been developed to assist in nutritional calculation and provision of nutrition information including allergen information, Ingredient list, daily intake values and the ‘traffic light.’ Nutrition Facts Information (NFI) outputs include summaries of the calorie content, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, fibre and salt content of foods or dishes. This offers SME’s the ability to optimise and reformulate their recipes and menu items to meet the required levels in terms of fat (9 Kcal per gram), carbohydrates (4 Kcal per gram) and Proteins 4 Kcal per gram) (See reference).

Since the mid twentieth century, concerns have been raised about dietary fat and cholesterol intake as one of the major stand points for changing consumer expectations and the responsibilities of food manufacturers. This is as the result of interaction of a multitude of social, economic and environmental variables compounded by increased serving sizes which are promoted at the expense of nutritionally balanced food choices. This brings into focus the relationship between the restrictive food labelling regulation and consumer protection whilst simultaneously raising awareness and improving knowledge about diet and health (See Reference).

Concerns by consumers about sustainability have impacted food manufacturers to take drastic efforts to address new consumer priorities at a larger scale than simply complying with regulation designed to protect the consumer. Meeting the daily nutritional reference intake has important sustainability outcomes as it improves health, however it has also posed challenges to the consumer which are being mitigated by the food industry through the supply of food products and services that meet consumer expectations (See reference). This has been influenced by the ever changing trends, attitude and behaviours of discerning consumers that has led to development of new technology for food production and information transfer to bridge gaps. In turn food choice has been influenced according to a framework for nutrition facts and nutrition claims use which has been developed and is summarised as below: (See Figure 1)

Figure 1: Conceptual Framework For Nutritional Facts Information And Nutrition Claim Use (Adapted from)

The food industry in the UK has been credited with responding efficiently and effectively to the diverse range of consumer demands across board by aligning the composition and promotion of many products to dietary and nutritional objectives. In retrospect it is important to develop science based recommendations of meal plans to consumers as this is an area gaining prominence at the moment as consumers are using this platform for weight loss purposes or other situational factors such as maintaining a balanced diet or to mitigate health issues. Nutritionals should be an enabler to consumer information, choice and product composition and should be easy to read, understand, easily visible, permanent and not misleading. The food industry as a whole can therefore focus on collaborative work with the research community, consumer groups, competitors, governmental bodies and industry stakeholders to come up with ways and means of applying new technologies with scientific know how about nutrition and labelling parameters. This will ultimately encourage future initiatives which would be consumer based and offer a varied choice of products that would suit the needs of each dietary and nutrition cluster.

The rise of Gluten Free – Is it hype, health or lifestyle choice?

The sale of gluten free products has increased globally in the past decade. Until recently, gluten free products went practically unnoticed with the exception of speciality health food stores that were selling gluten free (GF) products. Currently, GF products are now a feature in all major supermarkets, local stores and online shopping. This article considers where trends are going and how NPD will respond to them.

Recent research in the UK has shown a marked increase in the consumption of gluten free products. This has been attributed to the improved diagnosis of coeliac disease which has seen a rise from 24% in 2011 to 30% in 2015 (See Coeliac UK). Furthermore, there has been an increase in people without coeliac disease avoiding products that contain gluten, hence the increase in volume and value of GF products at a rapid rate (See research paper here) . The upturn has been credited to consumption of GF products as part of a healthy lifestyle as opposed to dietary restrictions and has seen retail value sales of GF products on the rise in terms of market value and range of free-from products (see, Figure 1).

Source: Based on IRI/Mintel

Figure 1, UK retail value sales of free-from food and drink with projections, 2012-2022 (See Mintel)

The trends and analysis – health or lifestyle;  it is now a trend rather than a fad with more people using and consuming GF products. Health has had a major influence on the GF category with approximately 48% of people consuming the products for general health reasons such as helping with weight loss or because they see GF products as healthier options than standard consumer products (See research paper here),. This rise has prompted various FMCG companies to incorporate GF products in their manufacturing plan so as to ensure they maintain a competitive edge and are able to meet discerning consumer needs.

“Estimated at £718 million in 2017, the UK free-from market more than doubled its size over 2012-17. This was due mainly to an increase in volume sales, driven by a number of factors including media buzz and increased distribution.(See Mintel)

Young adults between the ages of 20-29 years are expected to seek products that promote wellness, transparency and sustainability. This has contributed to the sharp rise in consumption of GF products by young adults who value nutrition, health benefits and dietary intake. This age group has often shown a preference in pursuing a lifestyle that is mostly moderated and focused on product integrity and sustainability (See research paper here). New products under the GF category have hit the consumer market and investment in food research and product development has drastically increased. GF products have become a mainstream sensation and have been embraced out of necessity and as a personal choice towards achieving a healthy lifestyle. However, the benefits of going GF are still not entirely clear with nutritional concerns being raised due to iron, calcium and fibre deficiencies  (See research paper here).

Food product development; in order to mitigate issues concerning the various deficiencies, food manufacturers are now blending more grains such as quinoa and amaranth into the various products to increase the nutrition value in GF products. Additionally, research into new product development at the National Centre for Food Manufacturing (NCFM) is focused on fortifying GF flours with freeze dried or dehydrated vegetables. We are developing recipes and products that offer personalised dietary needs and meet consumer expectations.

Socials – ‘Media Buzz’; the social media platform has given an increasingly important voice where the ability to communicate developments using interactive perspectives for consumers has had an impact. The growth of software applications  (e.g. mobile ‘apps’) has probably enhanced the rapid rise in sales of GF products with those such as ‘Gluten free food checker’ and ‘Gluten free on the move’. These are tested and provide information to consumers on-the-go making their shopping experience easier and much more efficient  (See, Coeliac UK).

The regulatory space; the Food Information for Consumer regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 has a role in increasing consumer awareness of ingredients used in producing gluten free products through the prerequisite labelling regulation on food products (See research paper here). Further studies by nutritionists and dietitians will now investigate the underlying reasons for the shift in consumer preference for gluten-free products along with other issues such wider well-being and weight management.

The Nutrition and NPD Innovations series; the whole GF arena is of specific interest to Food Insights and sustainability programmes at NCFM and we are delivering our first Nutrition and NPD Innovations Breakfast seminar on 20th November 2018, it would be great to see you there if you can get there!