12 January - 20 June 2016

Silent reformulation of own-brand products can be effective in reducing calorie consumption by consumers - study

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen have suggested that making small reformulation changes to recipes of own-brand food products to reduce calories contained in a product, without explicitly informing consumers, could help customers consume fewer calories.

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen have suggested that making small reformulation changes to recipes of own-brand food products to reduce calories contained in a product, without explicitly informing consumers, could help customers consume fewer calories.

The study, published in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, investigated the effects of a 'silent' reformulation strategy by one of Denmark's major retail chains, on eight food products.  The changes made had no impact on price, or taste, and only impacted the nutrient content, with nutritional labels being updated as a consequence of reformulation. The changes were not announced to customers.

Jensen et al. analysed weekly sales product category data for a year (between March 2013 – end of February 2014) for the retailers own labelled reformulated mayonnaise (reduced from 720 – 600 kcals/100 g), fruit yoghurt (reduced from 93 – 77 kcals/100 g – orange, and 90-74 kcals/100 g peach melba) pumpkin seed rye bread (reduced from 240 – 232 kcals/100 g), toasting buns (reduced from 280 – 270 kcals/100g), yoghurt bread (270 -250 kcals/100 g), carrot buns (310 – 281 kcals/100 g), whole grain rolls (260 – 240 kcals/100g) and chocolate museli (410 – 400 kcals/100 g).  All products had been reformulated to have a lower calorie content.  The study notes that “most of the affected product categories can be considered as 'high-frequency buys', where the possible demand effects of a reformulation would be measurable within few weeks after the reformulation had been implemented.” 

Using econometric methods, the scientists calculated the reformulation effects on calorie turnover and sales value. For mayonnaise the reformulated product had 17% less calories than the original.  The sales of the reformulated product increased by 2.6% and overall total calories sales for the product category fell by 7.5%.  Two fruit yoghurts were reformulated to have around a 17% reduction in calorie content leading to a 3.9% total calorie reduction in that product category.  The authors report that in some categories some consumers swapped the reformulated product for higher calorie alternatives leading to an increase in total calories of 0.7% in the bread category and a 3.1% increase in the chocolate muesli category. The rye bread with pumpkin seeds was reformulated to contain fewer sunflower seeds, more pumpkins seeds, and wholegrain rye whilst the muesli contained more grains (wheat and oats) and less salt.  For toasting bread, yoghurt bread, and buns with carrots, the reformulated products showed a reduction of 3.6%, 7.4% and 9.4% respectively whilst the total calorie sales for the product group fell by 3%, 3.2%, and an increase in 0.7% respectively. 

In a press release Jensen et al state: "Food product reformulation is considered to be one among several measures to combat the rising prevalence of overweight and obesity. Food manufacturers are continuously developing and marketing new 'low-calorie', 'low-fat', or 'low-sugar' varieties of processed food products.  However, the health promotion potential of more ‘silent’ product reformulation has been largely ignored in research.  Our findings suggest that silent reformulation of own-brand products can be effective in reducing calorie consumption by consumers."

RSSL's Product and Ingredient Innovation Team, has considerable experience in re-formulating products to provide more healthy options including low salt, low sugar versions and using pre- and probiotics.  Using RSSL can help speed up your development cycle considerably.  For more information please contact Customer Services on +44 (0) 118 918 4076 or email enquiries@rssl.com

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