Assessing the healthiness of UK food companies’ product portfolios using food sales and nutrient composition data
Bandy LK., Hollowell S., Harrington R., Scarborough P., Jebb S., Rayner M.
Background The provision and over-consumption of foods high in energy, saturated fat, free sugars or salt are important risk factors for poor diet and ill-health. In the UK, policies seek to drive improvement through voluntary reformulation of single nutrients in key food groups. There has been little consideration of the overall progress by individual companies. This study assesses recent changes in the nutrient profile of brands and products sold by the top 10 food and beverage companies in the UK. Methods The FSA/Ofcom nutrient profile model was applied to the nutrient composition data for all products manufactured by the top 10 food and beverage companies and weighted by volume sales. The mean nutrient profiling score, on a scale of 1–100 with thresholds for healthy products being 62 for foods and 68 for drinks, was used to rank companies and food categories between 2015 and 2018, and to calculate the proportion of individual products and sales that are considered by the UK Government to be healthy. Results Between 2015 and 2018 there was little change in the sales-weighted nutrient profiling score of the top 10 companies (49 to 51; p = 0.28) or the proportion of products classified as healthy (46% to 48%; p = 0.23). Of the top five brands sold by each of the ten companies, only six brands among ten companies improved their nutrient profiling score by 20% or more. The proportion of total volume sales classified as healthy increased from 44% to 51% (p = 0.07) driven by an increase in the volume sales of bottled water, low/no calorie carbonates and juices, but after removing soft drinks, the proportion of foods classified as healthy decreased from 7% to 6% (p = 33). Conclusions The UK voluntary reformulation policies, setting targets for reductions in calories, sugar and salt, do not appear to have led to significant changes in the nutritional quality of foods, though there has been progress in soft drinks where the soft drink industry levy also applies. Further policy action is needed to incentivise companies to make more substantive changes in product composition to support consumers to achieve a healthier diet.