Health by stealth: Why companies keep quiet about reformulation

Dive Brief:

  • Food companies improved the health profile of about 180,000 products in 2016, says a new report from the Consumer Goods Forum.

  • While three-quarters of reporting companies had reformulated their products to make them healthier, only 27% of respondents made their company policies on nutrition and reformulation public. The CGF says it aims to increase transparency.

  • The most common improvements were sugar and sodium reduction, as well as the addition of whole grains and vitamins.

Dive Insight:

Companies have been under pressure for years to improve the health profiles of their products, but many have chosen to do so quietly, without making these changes public. After all, changing the recipe of well-loved products has often come with customer backlash. Coca-Cola, for example, ended up going back to sugar in Vitaminwater after customers rejected a lower calorie sugar-stevia blend.

Making companies’ nutrition policies available to the public is one of the CGF’s four health and wellness pillars, but many of its members seem reluctant to embrace it. The organization noted that reformulated products are a relatively small part of companies’ total portfolios, with the vast majority (70%) saying they represent less than 20% of their products. It's possible that companies are concerned that promoting reformulated products could come at the expense of the rest of their portfolio. 

And although consumers claim they prefer healthier foods, their buying habits may not match their intentions. In the minds of consumers, healthy food often means less tasty food, with "less salt" in particular linked to "less flavor."

The tide may be turning on this trend, however. Last May, Nestlé announced a wide-ranging sodium reduction strategy and then asked consumers whether they would be more or less likely to buy Nestlé products as a result. The majority (81%) said the change would not affect their purchases, 15% said they were likely to buy more, and only 4% said it would make purchases less likely.

Filed Under: Manufacturing Ingredients Marketing