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Packaged foods: What role can they play in improving consumption of nutritious food?

Research snapshot1

Lawrence Haddad recently attended a side event on packaged foods at the 2018 EAT forum in Stockholm, following which he wrote a blog about the experience (see here). Highlights of the blog are that average households in nearly all countries in the world acquire the majority of their food from markets, most of which are packaged foods; the market for which is growing in middle-income countries (and probably also in low-income countries). This presents both a business and nutrition opportunity. At the side meeting participants were introduced to four new packaged-food products with nutritious food aspirations from four companies, which they were then asked to score for health, social, environmental and business dimensions. Products included a new Kellogg’s granola-type cereal called Force of Nature (with reduced sugar and all-recyclable packaging); a fruit smoothie (froosch) (containing only fruit, with fruit fibres giving it a smoothie feel); reformulated Nesquik cereal (with reduced sugar and salt); and ModuMax (a taste modulator from DSM that moderates negative organoleptic characteristics in foods reformulated to have reduced sugar and salt).

Lawrence reflected that some companies have made substantial changes to their products’ profiles (including lower sugar and higher fibre) over the last five to ten years, which are “not transformational in a big bang sense”. However, small but frequent and persistent changes add up to big changes. Some companies are struggling with the question how much effort to put into reformulating existing core products versus introducing new ‘healthier’ products, which could upset customers and lead to lower sales. It may be that companies providing business-to-business products (like DSM’s ModuMax) will have a greater impact in helping the whole system change, given their large reach. Processed foods can provide nutrition, convenience, safety and affordability if those are the key design criteria guiding processing, but incentives for this are needed. Finally, businesses are clear that, to be a market success, more nutritious foods must be tastier than less nutritious variants, an idea that those of us in the public sector must also embrace. 

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Endnote

1Myatt M, Khara T, Schoenbuchner S et al. Children who are both wasted and stunted are also underweight and have a high risk of death: a descriptive epidemiology of multiple anthropometric deficits using data from 51 countries. Archives of Public Health. 2018;76:28. doi:10.1186/s13690-018-0277-1.

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Packaged foods: What role can they play in improving consumption of nutritious food?. Field Exchange 58, September 2018. p12. www.ennonline.net/fex/58/packagedfoods