PHE tells the whole food industry to trim the fat by 20%

7 key points from Public Health England's calorie-reduction campaign publication, from targeting takeaways to the food categories under the knife.

6 March 2018
image credit: Mukhina1/iStock/Thinkstock

1. The food industry should aim to cut the calories in products by 20% by 2024. And PHE means the entire food industry, including retailers and manufacturers, restaurants, pubs, cafes, takeaway and delivery services, and others in the eating out of home sector. “It’s encouraging… to see that the Government’s renewed focus looks not just at the food and drink bought for consumption at home, but also at takeaways, restaurants and cafés,” said Ian Wright, director general of the Food and Drink Federation. “To be successful in improving the nation’s health, it is also vital that this work delivers appropriate, clear and easily understandable calorie messages for shoppers and consumers.”


2. A total of 15 food categories are included in the program: savoury biscuits, crackers and sweetbreads; bread with additions (e.g. ciabatta with olives); cooking sauces and pastes; table sauces and salad dressings; crisps and savoury snacks; egg products; potato products; sausages and burgers; meat, fish and vegetarian pastry pies; flavoured and filled pasta, rice and noodles; ready meals with carbohydrate accompaniment; meal centres (including takeaways) without carbohydrate accompaniment; dips and prepared accompaniment salads; pizza; and food to go. Unprocessed foods like fresh fruit, veg and eggs are naturally not included – how would you cut down the calories of a cabbage? – and neither are foods that have been included in the sugar-reduction programme.   


3. Three main ways for food businesses to reduce calories have been suggested: reformulation, portion-size reduction and highlighting low-calorie options. No surprises here, though consumers are unlikely to be over-thrilled by the prospect of more ‘shrinkflation.’


4. If the 20% target is met within five years, more than 35,000 premature deaths could be prevented, according to the report. This would save around £9bn in combined healthcare and social care costs over 25 years.


5. PHE is sticking with its daily calorie guidelines of 2,000 for women and 2,500 for men, as Food Spark previously noted. Pointing to its One You campaign, the government advises people to aim for 400 calories at breakfast, 600 for lunch and 600 dinner – plus another 400 allowance for drinks and snacks throughout the day. It wants to partner with brands to ‘signpost’ meals that meet these goals, with McDonald’s, Boots and Starbucks already on board.


6. How exactly PHE’s guidelines will be enforced has been vague, and it won’t set specific product category targets for over a year. In mid-2019, it also plans to make a decision on whether the out of home and delivery sectors need their own targets. These uncertainties are already causing concern in some quarters, with the chairman of Action on Sugar, Graham MacGregor, stating: "We applaud PHE’s plans to reformulate and cut excess calories consumption in what could be a groundbreaking campaign. However, in order for it to be successful, it is imperative that the 20% calorie reduction targets are properly enforced and transparent. We also need clear guidance from Government on what will happen if the food industry fails to comply, as it is vital that the industry is given a level-playing field and all companies, both retail and out of home, fully co-operate.”


7. Figures show that a third of adolescent children in the UK are now obese, with boys gorging on 500 too many calories a day, while girls chomp down an excess of 290. “The simple truth is on average we need to eat less. Children and adults routinely eat too many calories and it’s why so many are overweight or obese,” said Duncan Selbie, chief executive of PHE. “Industry can help families by finding innovative ways to lower the calories in the food we all enjoy and promoting UK business leadership on the world stage in tackling obesity.” PHE claims that the addition of the calorie campaign to its sugar-reduction program and the soft drinks levy means it has accounted for approximately 50% of children’s overall calorie intakes.

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