A report, described as a world-first on changes to a nation’s diet, examined data on 600 products from 14 of the country’s major food and drink companies.
Compiled by analysts Creme Global for the Ibec-affiliated Food and Drink Industry Ireland (FDII), it showed reductions achieved between 2005 and 2012 in the products analysed:
- Salt content reduced by 37%;
- Sugar content fell by 14%;
- Energy as measured in calories reduced by 12%;
- Total fat and saturated fat intake decreased by about 10%.
A supplementary report which looked at the drinks sector showed reformulation measures and the introduction of low and zero-calorie drinks had reduced sugar levels by 10% and energy by 7% in the national diet over the same seven years.
Consultant dietitian nutritionist Dr Mary McCreery said the biggest effect would be on children if all companies with similar products reformulated their energy content to the same extent. “It would prevent over half a stone excessive weight gain per year in each child,” she said.
FDII director Paul Kelly said the report, supported by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, is the first of its kind in the world, and that never before had the impact of reformulation on the diet of an entire nation been analysed.
“The commitment of food and drink companies to change recipes and introduce new products has had a significant and positive impact on the diet of Irish consumers,” he said.
Conor McGauran, head of business development at Creme Global, said basic products across 10 cate-gories were analysed. “They would be in shopping baskets every day across all age groups,” he said.
However, it was not feasible to conduct the analysis down to the individual code level because there would be thousands of tables.
Mr McGauran said the 14 companies that submitted data were taking a risk because they did not know how the analysis would go.
The participating companies were Britvic Ireland, Coca Cola Ireland, Glanbia Consumer Foods, Kellogg’s Ireland, Kepak Convenience Foods, Kerry Foods, Largo Foods, Lucozade Ribena Suntory Ireland, Mars Ireland, Mondelez International, Nestle, PepsiCo, Unilever, and Valeo Foods.
Mr McGauran said they wanted more firms to submit data so it became more broadly representative of what was in people’s baskets. They also wanted retailers to submit data because many people were consuming company and own brands.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar, who launched the report, said product reformulation was only part of the solution to Ireland’s obesity problem.
While the recent Healthy Ireland survey showed that obesity levels had stabilised, around 60% of people are overweight or obese. “The food industry is well placed to play an important role in the ongoing battle against obesity,” he said.