Food Industry

National Food Strategy: a review of the UK food system

Food does more than influence our health and wellbeing – it characterises who we are, shapes our landscape and provides jobs.  I’m proud to say that I am part of the UK’s food industry, and if you are reading this blog, chances are, you are one of my fellow one in eight who earn a living from it too!

It may come as no surprise though to hear that intensive farming practises have taken their toll on the environment, whilst food related diseases are affecting the lives of millions and costing our NHS billions.  Food sustainability is increasingly becoming a concern too and so, it is fantastic news to hear that government has announced the first major review in nearly 75 years, of Britain’s food system.

The independent review aims to investigate the entire food system, from field to fork, and consider what changes are needed to ensure that it:

  • Delivers safe, healthy, affordable food, regardless of where people live or how much they earn;
  • Is robust in the face of future shocks
  • Restores and enhances the natural environment for the next generation;
  • Is built upon a resilient and sustainable agriculture sector;
  • Is a thriving contributor to our urban and rural economies, delivering well paid jobs and supporting innovative producers and manufacturers.
  • Does all of this in an efficient and cost-effective way.

For the review to be shaped by the widest possible national engagement, it will involve chefs, farmers, retailers, policy makers and small businesses in addition to focus groups consisting of people with diet related diseases, families on low incomes as well as a citizens’ assembly and a young persons’ assembly.

Recommendations from this review, led by Henry Dimbleby, co-author of the government’s Childhood Obesity Plan, will result in a trailblazing new National Food Strategy, set to be published in 2020.

I’m sure you will agree – this is a great opportunity to review and improve the impact the food sector has on health, the environment and the economy.

AB Food Nutrition specialises in working closely on all aspects of nutrition labelling/policy with food businesses of all sizes and has years of experience supporting new and small food businesses not just in the North West, but across the UK. Contact Anne to discuss your requirements for a cost-effective food & nutrition labelling quote.

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4 reasons you need a food & nutrition labelling consultant

Maybe you are puzzled at why companies might hire consultants instead of solving their own problems themselves? As much as I hate to hear it, that question does make sense however, there are many reasons why a company might need to use a consultant to help with their nutrition and labelling obligations (and also why I am able to keep working with some of the coolest foodies in the industry!).

 

You might not want the responsibility of verifying all the information on your own

Labelling rules are strictly regulated and can get complicated when trying to establish if you have included all the mandatory information correctly, taken account of the minimum type sizes for the text on your label in addition to any specific declarations that may apply to your product type.

A labelling consultant is there to support you in producing compliant labels.  They are the experts who know what can or cannot be printed on the label and they are aware of which sets of regulations will apply to your product type no matter how complex that may be.

You are just starting out in the food industry

No doubt you have done tons of research looking at competitor products so that you can make your label the best and the most eye catching.  However, if your competitor makes certain claims on their packs, this doesn’t mean that you should too.

Consultants will advise you what is compliant rather than what sells best in the market place.  Brands who break the law do so at their own risk and are likely to be challenged by the authorities eventually.

You don’t have the time to learn about labelling laws

Perhaps you are launching several products at once or have just won a new retail contract with a very tight launch timeline.  Maybe you just don’t have the energy or desire to check your label designs are compliant amongst all the other important tasks required in the running of your expanding business?

By nature, consultants will provide advice that clearly keeps their client within the law, so do exactly what a labelling consultant tells you!!  Obvious I know, but there are so many regulations under constant change, it would be almost impossible for small businesses to keep up. Once you have established your product portfolio and had your labels reviewed, it should become a routine task to add more SKUs in the future if they are of similar ingredients.

You want to hire an experienced and knowledgeable labelling expert

In an ideal world, you would have a team of experts in-house, but the reality is, the number of hours and frequency you would need them means employing these experts full-time is not an option.

This is where the flexibility of using a consultant really comes into its own. You only pay for the services/time the consultant provides.  You also benefit from projects being completed speedily because your consultant (unlike in-house employees) isn’t distracted by other business tasks.  This means good value for money!

It may seem like a big investment or effort to employ a food and nutrition labelling consultant, though you may find that you are eligible for funding or grants that will cover some or all of the fees.  AB Food Nutrition specialises in working closely with organisations of all sizes and has years of experience supporting new and small food businesses not just in the North West, but across the UK. Contact Anne to discuss your requirements for a cost-effective food & nutrition labelling quote.

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Do I need a Nutritionist for recipe analysis?

There is a plethora of software options and subscriptions available for businesses to calculate the nutrient contents of their recipes – but as with anything, the accuracy of the data output is only going to be as good as the information going in!

I first wrote about this in 2016 and the importance of using professionally trained experts, but in recent months it has become apparent when talking with several food business owners, that small/medium sized operators are increasingly starting to calculate their nutrition information themselves.  With this in mind, now seemed a good time to revisit and discuss the benefits & pitfalls of calculating the nutrition contents of foods and drinks.

AB Food Nutrition has many years of experience calculating the nutrient composition of recipes for labels, menu boards and magazines. Using your product recipe we can take the hassle out of nutrition labelling compliance whilst providing an inexpensive, confidential and personal service to your business.  Contact Anne for details.

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A vegan and allergen quandary

Imagine this: It’s a Saturday morning and I’ve lovingly made a nutritious breakfast of scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast for my daughter before she heads off out to play in a footy match.  I then put away and clean up everything ready for my two friends Amanda and Tania, who are joining me for brunch.  Now, my friend Amanda is vegan and so I have opted to make us all a vegan fry-up of hash browns, mushrooms, tomatoes, scrambled tofu and baked beans.

I then remember that Tania has severe egg and milk allergies so although she can still enjoy my vegan fry-up – how do I know that absolutely all traces of egg and milk have been removed from my kitchen since I made my daughters scrambled egg this morning?? The answer is…I don’t!

 

 

And there you have it! Now, as the Vegan Society explains “Products suitable for vegans may not be suitable for people with allergies. Vegans avoid exploitation of non-human animals, whereas people with allergies need products that do not contain the allergens that affect them. These are separate issues.”

Just in the same way that companies assess whether their products may contain major allergens I had to decide whether I thought Tania would be safe eating my vegan fry-up in the same kitchen where I had previously made scrambled eggs.  If there is a risk, the label carries a ‘may also contain’ warning.

So why did M&S come under so much fire with the launch of their new plant kitchen range?

The Vegan Society states it is “not against foods labelled as vegan also carrying a ‘may contain warning about animal allergens”, and an M&S spokesperson quite rightly pointed out that “vegan products may not be suitable for people with severe allergies because allergens may be present in the environment in which they are made.  This is clearly flagged on the packaging as a steer to those who need it.”  However, many disagree and feel that it is misleading to state something is vegan whilst also stating that it may contain small amounts of dairy products.

The food industry must adhere to strict rules concerning allergen labelling, which is heavily regulated, yet the term ‘vegan’ is only used by industry voluntarily so, how can it be used accurately when no legal definition exists?  (Note: the EU Commission announced it would begin the process to establish a legal definition this year, but this will not automatically apply to the UK post-Brexit).  In the meantime, there needs to be more education for consumers to understand that “vegan” does not automatically mean “free from” and as always, it pays to read the label every time!

AB Food Nutrition works with manufacturers and caterers to provide allergen information to consumers on labels, menus and websites. We can work with you to implement procedures for updating and signing off allergen information. Contact Anne for further information about our cost-effective consultancy services.

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Unhealthy high streets

Last week it was featured in the news, a report identifying the UK’s unhealthiest high streets.  High streets were ranked by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) according to the numbers of payday lenders, bookmakers, tanning salons and fast food outlets.  There was a clear link between deprived areas and unhealthy high streets with Grimsby, Blackpool and Walsall topping the list in contrast to Edinburgh, Canterbury and Taunton which had the healthiest high streets.

In recent years there has been a proliferation of fast food outlets (FFOs) in the most deprived areas – but why is this an issue?  To start with, there is plenty of evidence backing the link between the frequency of visiting FFOs and health outcomes such as weight gain, insulin resistance and high blood pressure.1 A recent study added further weight to this evidence by finding an association between FFO exposure, fast food consumption and obesity.2  These associations are hardly surprising given that fast food tends to be energy-dense, high in salt and served in large portion sizes.

Despite the reputation though, we have all had fast foods in our time and as the old saying goes ‘everything in moderation!’ I was quoted in an article a couple of years ago suggesting ways to make healthier choices when ordering your favourite takeaway:

  • Switching creamy curries to tomato-based dishes such as tandoori and madras
  • Opt for steamed dishes rather than fried foods
  • Choose diet/sugar free soft drinks instead of regular ones

 

Public Health England also announced in March 2018 a challenge for the whole food industry to reduce calories in foods (most commonly eaten by children) by 20% by 2024.  The introduction of the sugar levy has resulted in widespread reformulation amongst high profile soft drinks manufacturers resulting in commercially successful lower-sugar options.

The government is currently consulting on plans to make the display of calorie information mandatory in out-of-home food and drink outlets because some research suggests that this is effective in reducing overall calorie intake.  (Read my previous blog about this).

 But what can you start to do today in order to provide healthier options?  Now, I‘m not saying take chips off the menu – but you can make small changes to top-selling items to make a big impact!  Look at ways you can modify your existing recipes by the types and amounts of ingredients used and also in the way you cook and prepare the dishes.  Here are some of my top tips:

Reduce calories by switching from double to single cream
Use thick cut chips or wedges in preference to thin cut fries
Use rapeseed oil for frying and remember to drain food well by giving it a good bang and shake
Dry fry meats where possible after trimming away visible fat
Try to include more vegetables into dishes and use seasonal, frozen or canned to keep costs down

 

AB Food Nutrition works with manufacturers and caterers to provide nutrient composition values of their products for labelling & menu boards and also during product development or reformulation. We can work with you to find ways to make existing dishes healthier and provide support in complying with the law if you want to make nutrition claims. Contact Anne for further information about our cost-effective nutrition and labelling services.

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1  Health on the High Street, RSPH, 2018
2  Burgoine, T., Sarkar, C., Webster, C.J., Monsivais, P., 2018. Examining the interaction of fast-food outlet exposure and income on diet and obesity: evidence from 51,361 Biobank participants, , International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, 15(1):71 doi: 10.1186/s12966-018-0699-8.
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