Consumers are well served

“Healthy eating has moved firmly from cranky faddism into the mainstream, with a plethora of initiatives jostling for space” - David Jago.

David Jago is Director of Insight & Innovation at Mintel. For more information go to

The food and health issue remains at the forefront of public debate in the UK – rarely can there have been a time when the national diet was under such intense scrutiny.

David Jago - MintelHealthy eating has moved firmly from cranky faddism into the mainstream, with a plethora of low calorie, low fat, low salt, additive free and 'better-for-you' initiatives jostling for space on supermarket shelves.

In such a competitive climate, no manufacturer can afford to be off-message and many smaller suppliers have found healthy market niches.

Increasingly, UK consumers are acting on this imperative. In just five areas reviewed by Mintel (dairy, baked goods, soft drinks, confectionery, and crisps and snacks), healthy eating options are now worth around £7bn and retail sales of these healthier options have been growing at twice the rate of the categories as a whole. Total sales are in the region of £8bn when you include sales of reduced fat and reduced calorie foods in other categories.

The food industry itself – both manufacturers and retailers – has come under severe criticism for its alleged role in encouraging poor eating habits. But most UK food suppliers now have healthy options and many have revamped entire product ranges. In the 18-month period since January 2008, there have been more than 700 reformulated food and drink products launched in the UK – more than in any other European market.

Over a third of these were in meals, processed meat, fish and side dishes; 14% were in sauces and seasonings; 11% in bakery; and 11% were in non-alcoholic drinks. But examples can be seen in every aisle of the supermarket.

Food manufacturers, brand owners and private label operators reformulate products for a variety of reasons – health is clearly the key factor, with the very visible activity around reducing fat, calories, sugar and salt. Another important focus recently has been the removal of artificial additives, which the consumer increasingly sees as part of the total 'wellbeing' picture.

Of the 700-plus reformulations in the UK, 43% were labelled 'no additives/preservatives' – a substantially higher level than in Continental Europe (26%).

Others also reformulate from the point of view of further improving the quality of products, including an emphasis on local or Britishsupplied ingredients, as well as ethical sourcing.

Reformulation is happening across the range, at every price point. In retail, for example, you are as likely to see basic value lines being reformulated as you are premium own label ranges. And all this activity has become a vital part of the marketing mix for the brands that retailers sell.

In the snacks market, for instance, Walkers has reformulated its crisps and repositioned Wotsits as an oven baked snack now containing 25% less fat than in 2005.

United Biscuits has reformulated its McVitie's biscuits to contain 50% less saturated fat while maintaining the same great taste. And in the soft drinks market Coca-Cola has reformulated Fanta, which is now made with real fruit juice, contains 30% less sugar and is free from artificial flavours and colours.

Such widespread activity indicates that there is no shortage of healthier options, which means the future of 'better-for-you' foods now lies as much in the hands of the consumer as it does with the food industry.

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Last reviewed: 06 Jul 2009