Article is available in full to IFST members and subscribers.

Register on the FST Journal website for free

Click the button to register to FST Journal online for free and gain access to the latest news


If you are an IFST member, please login through the Members Area of the IFST website. 













The history of food reformulation

Helen Munday and Lindsey Bagley consider the contribution of food science to nutrition through reformulation of foods in the last 50 years and predict future trends.


The proportion of household income British consumers are currently spending on food and soft drinks is just 15% – less than half the share it took 50 years ago[1]. In the 1960s, foods were literally fuel and concerns about malnutrition were very real. Fifty years on and it can be argued that malnutrition still exists in the UK, with obesity being the major public health concern of our time. Nowadays, consumers seek affordable, convenient and palatable foods and these drivers of food choice can impact negatively on health, with concerns including high blood pressure, raised blood cholesterol and obesity. The health profession has specifically targeted the need to reduce salt, sugars and saturated fat in foods and drinks. In the context of preventing cancer, there are also concerns about a lack of dietary fibre.

Advances in nutrition science over the last 50 years have increased our understanding of what constitutes a healthy diet; food science and technology have helped to develop foods to meet these needs. This article compares larders of the 1960s with the store cupboards, fridges and freezers of today’s consumer, highlighting the role of food science and technology in implementing changes in a number of food categories.

Milk and milk-based beverages


Milk is the single most frequently bought grocery item. It is a complex food that has played an important part in the human diet for millennia. Fifty years ago, most consumers received milk daily in 1-pint reusable glass bottles via doorstep delivery. Most of the milk was pasteurised and consumed as whole milk. Pasteurisation of milk can extend the shelf-life from a day to a week with only a slight impact on taste and nutritional content.

Today most milk consumed in the UK is still pasteurised but less than 5% reaches consumers via delivery. It is mainly purchased from retailers in various volumes in plastic containers or laminate board cartons. This illustrates the developments in both packaging and control in the distribution chain, which ensure that milk gets to market in temperature-controlled conditions the day after it leaves the cow.

Milk is also available in ambient-stable, flexible laminate packaging following ultra-high temperature (UHT) processing. This technology, pioneered by Tetrapak, has transformed milk and beverage distribution globally. Its introduction followed a breakthrough in carton assembly and aseptic packaging technology in the 1960s. Aseptic processing sterilises the product and the package separately and then combines and seals them in a sterile atmosphere. This is in contrast to canning and bottling, where product and package are first combined and then sterilised. UHT processing has resulted in a dramatic improvement in the flavour quality of milk compared to canned or bottle-sterilised milk, which was the previous ambient format. However, UHT affects flavour and nutritional profile (i.e. vitamins) slightly more than pasteurisation.

An alternative process being explored by the dairy industry is ultrafiltration, whereby milk is processed without heat by passing it through a membrane which ‘sieves’ out the microbes. This produces a product with a very low microbiological count and therefore a longer shelf-life than traditional pasteurisation and it also has minimal effects on flavour as there is no heat damage.

However, despite these technologies to extend the availability of milk, the amount of milk being consumed at home has decreased substantially over the past 50 years[2]. Semi-skimmed is now the preferred fat content as consumers follow the public health advice to reduce saturated fat intake.

Reformulation of milk through reduction of fat and saturated fat by ‘skimming’, means that consumers can reduce fat intake, without affecting intake of the essential nutrients present in milk, such as calcium, riboflavin and vitamin B12. Work is underway to modify further the fat profile of milk by changing the diets of dairy cows and to investigate the health benefits of this approach.

Milk contributes protein, carbohydrate (lactose) and several micronutrients, for example, calcium, which can be lacking in modern diets of some population groups. It can also be a source of iodine, phosphorus and potassium, as well as riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin B12 (Table 3).

The nutritional value of milk is in direct contrast to that of sugars-sweetened beverages, as at around 10% sucrose (by volume) they deliver 100% of their energy as sugar with little in the way of additional nutrients.

Table 1: Milk purchases in litres per person per annum in the UK in 2003 compared to 2013 Defra family food survey (2003, 2013)
Table 2: Macronutrient profile of milk Calculated from information presented in McCance & Widdowson’s ‘The Composition of Foods’ (2014) 7th Edition3
Table 3: Vitamins and minerals present in 250 ml whole milk. Calculated from information presented in McCance & Widdowson’s ‘The Composition of
Foods’ (2014)

Milk-based beverages

Using milk as a base for beverages introduces a number of potential benefits for consumers:

• Natural

• Pure

• Safe

• Clean label

• Nutritionally complex

• Positive nutritional benefits

These milk beverages generally require sweetening and flavouring. The final product may be thick or thin in consistency and chilled or ambient-stable, so they can be consumed on many different occasions. These drinks extend the consumption of milk to those who do not find milk attractive in its original state and therefore may miss out on its positive nutritional benefits. They also give the opportunity to remove fat and add vitamins and minerals for fortification.

To improve the clean label credentials of food products, sweeteners, colours, flavours and hydrocolloid thickeners are all moving to a ‘natural’ position. Fifty years ago, azo dyes were the only colours available and flavours were mainly composed of synthetic compounds and therefore labelled as ‘artificial’. Whilst these are still available, the natural options, although significantly more expensive, are generally preferred by consumers. Sweetness for these products is derived by hydrolysing the naturally occurring lactose. Naturally derived low-calorie sweeteners, such as stevia, are likely to become increasingly popular as manufacturers avoid adding refined sugars.

The food industry has developed a variety of milk offerings for different sectors of the population (Table 4).

Table 4: Types of milk beverage


Lactose-free milk was initially launched in the late 1970s as a medicinal food for a small number of lactose-intolerant consumers. It was manufactured by enzyme hydrolysis of the lactose [sucrose equivalence value (SEV) of 0.16] to glucose (SEV 0.74) and galactose (SEV 0.60) and was then UHT processed. The additional sweetness and caramelised flavours caused by the Maillard reactions during the heat processing of the reducing sugars severely limited consumer acceptability and so the market was very limited. The use of reverse osmosis, which allowed some of the lactose to be removed from the milk prior to enzyme treatment, subsequently led to improvements in the flavour profile. This process results in a more equivalent sweetness to regular milk and greater consumer acceptability. This, along with lactose-free becoming a lifestyle choice, increased market size to the point where chill-chain distribution became economical. Lactosefree milk is now found alongside regular milk in the chill isle of most retailers.

Dairy-free is another lifestyle choice that has influenced the milk market. A large number of vegetable-based alternatives to milk have been developed in recent years. First were soy-based drinks and today we have rice-, oat-, almond- and coconut-based milk alternatives. These are fortified with calcium but do not have the nutritional complexity of milk either at the macro- or micro-nutrient level.

Gluten-free products have also moved from medicinal foods to the mainstream. Technical developments in ingredients and processing have improved the quality and flavour of these products to increase their appeal. It is thought that less than 10% of gluten-free products are purchased by those with a coeliac condition and there are concerns that overall dietary balance may be negatively impacted by a gluten-free lifestyle choice, as gluten-free foods can be lower in fibre and certain micronutrients than their regular counterparts.


Yogurt and other varieties of fermented milk product, including kefir and leben (or labneh) have been consumed for thousands of years. Active fermentation of milk with specific bacteria is a natural way of preventing spoilage by undesirable bacteria and extending the shelf life.

Yogurts are available with a range of additional ingredients, leading to a vast choice from thick, strained or Greek-style yogurts to flavoured drinking yogurts. Although yogurt tends to have a good nutritional profile, recent concerns about the level of sugars added for sweetening purposes have resulted in many variants using high-potency, low-calorie sweeteners, rather than sugars.

In the middle of the last century cream was a luxury. Skimmed milk (left behind as an afterthought) and whey (waste stream from cheese) were often used for animal feed because they had such little value. Cream, butter and certain cheeses were the higher value products.

Yogurts and fermented milks were developed to add value to skimmed milk. ‘Regular’ yogurt was initially a skimmed milk product so it was probably the original low-fat food. However, this healthy aspect of yogurt did not appeal to consumers for several decades. In the 1960s, the acceptance of yogurt was based on its flavour and the eating occasion, with sweetened fruit yogurts offering an alternative to cereal and toast for breakfast. Thereafter, yoghurt has carved a niche in consumers’ shopping baskets as a healthy food/dessert.

Yogurt is a versatile food that lends itself to a wide variety of products. In today’s market, it is used as the basis of drinks, snacks, meal replacements, condiments and desserts. It is considered a nutrient-dense food, but added ingredients and production methods will dictate the final nutritional content. Being made from milk, yogurt is typically a good source of high-quality protein and is a highly bioavailable source of calcium. The fat content of yogurt varies widely, ranging from ‘fat-free’ (less than 0.5% fat) to 10% fat in some Greek-style varieties.

There is a wealth of evidence about the relationship between dairy foods and health. Whilstn several studies have suggested that yogurt consumption may be beneficial to bone health, cardiovascular health[4], diabetes[5] and obesity[6], any such claims are based on the nutrient content derived from milk. Yogurt provides many of the nutrients needed for optimal bone health, such as calcium, protein, magnesium, zinc and phosphorus. The low pH in yoghurt ionises the calcium present, increasing its bioavailability and facilitating uptake in the intestine. There are many nutrition claims for yogurt, such as a source of calcium, phosphorus, iodine and riboflavin[7], and it can often be tolerated by people with lactose maldigestion due to the lower lactose level and the gut effects of the yogurt cultures.

As more is understood about the influence of well characterised bacterial strains present in such products on the gut flora and wider physiology, other health benefits may be revealed[8]. Manufacturers have been researching the cultures used to make yoghurts, some of which have been specifically selected, not so much for their role in eating enjoyment, but for their potential positive impact on gut microflora and overall health[9]. For many years, especially during the early 21st century, the term ‘probiotic’ became a common sight on yogurt labels. But data to support the health benefits of probiotics has fallen short of the scientific threshold set under the health claim regulations and this term is not currently permitted in the EU. Thus, specialist reformulation continues in this area.

Yogurt naturally contains less lactose than milk, suggesting that it may be better tolerated than milk in people with lactose intolerance, possibly due to slower gastric emptying and gut transit. An Opinion by the European Food Safety Authority[10] confirmed that live yogurt can be included in the diets of people with lactose maldigestion because, within the gut, the cultures in live yogurt improve the digestion of lactose, breaking it down to lactic acid. This led to an authorised European Union health claim of ‘improved lactose digestion’ for yogurts and fermented milks containing minimum levels of live cultures.

Yoghurts are consumed daily in the UK and the sweetened varieties are particularly popular. Many are sweetened with fruit but some are also sweetened with refined sugars. Whilst there has already been much reformulation activity to reduce fat content (fat-free options are common), there are now reduced sugar options too, sometimes using low/no calorie/sugar sweeteners. Given that Public Health England (PHE) has identified yoghurts as one of the categories that significantly contribute to children’s sugar intake[11] there is likely to be further focus on this area in the future.

To improve the clean label credentials of food products, sweeteners, colours, flavours and hydrocolloid thickeners are all moving to a ‘natural’ position.'



The benefits of citrus fruits have been known for centuries. A Scottish physician, James Lind, was one of the first to appreciate the importance of vitamin C, when in 1753 he advocated fresh vegetables and ripe fruit to prevent scurvy. The British Navy adopted his advice some forty years later; sailors were nicknamed ‘limeys’ because they took lime-juice on long sea voyages to prevent scurvy.

After the Second World War, recognising the poor nutritional status of many people, the Government authorised the National Health Service to give young families access to free orange juice. This came in the form of a bottled orange concentrate, which was unlike the juices available today. As affluence grew and food technology developed, UHT juices were produced, almost all from concentrate, in flexible packaging and some pasteurised versions became available in glass. This was sometimes offered as a ‘starter’ to a meal and eventually became a regular for breakfast occasions. Next came the ‘not from concentrate’ variety of juice, which retained more of the original natural qualities of the fruit. As control of the chill chain distribution has become more sophisticated and efficient, there has been an enormous growth in sales of freshly squeezed juice with a shelf-life that would not have been viable a few decades ago. Today ‘cold pressed’ juices employ a non-thermal technique, using high pressure to kill microbes and preserve nutrients that would otherwise be impacted by heat treatment.

A combination of availability, global trading and processing and packaging techniques has resulted in the availability of apple, grapefruit and tomato juices and blends of fruit including the more exotic, such as mango, peach, passion fruit, kiwi and guava. Some of the fruits considered ‘exotic’ are everyday items in other countries but ‘tropical’ has been a significant part of the marketing message.

Many studies have been undertaken on the potential health benefits of certain fruits and/ or their extracts (for example polyphenols). Research aiming to establish links with health and wellbeing continues, but to date, few health benefits are supported by approved health claims. Where claims are made, they usually relate to nutrition content e.g. vitamin C.

More than any other type of food, fruit benefits from being considered healthy and this extends to juices, even though there is a significant process step involved. Some recent concerns about the free sugar content of juices has diminished this perception, but juice is still recognised as making a contribution to fruit and vegetable intake. This has led to juice-based products with lower sugars content and other nutritional benefits, such as added minerals (e.g. calcium), fibre and vegetables.

The regulatory approval of the naturally derived sweetener stevia, has enabled production of half juice products with corresponding half sugar/calories: 50% of the beverage is made to taste like the juice that makes up the other 50% by adding flavourings, acid and sweetness.

Most consumers are aware that fruit and vegetables are important for health and this has been heavily promoted by governments in ‘5 A DAY’ campaigns. But, the 5 A DAY messaging in the UK has now been amended to indicate that whole fruits have more benefits than juice. The sugars in juices have been categorised as the less desirable ‘free sugars’, which are associated with weight gain and poor dental health[12]. Unsweetened 100% fruit juice, vegetable juice and smoothies can now count as a maximum of one portion of the 5 A DAY, no matter how much is consumed, and it is recommended that the combined total of drinks from fruit juice, vegetable juice and smoothies should not be more than 150ml a day. However, beverage producers are embracing the opportunity to develop serving sizes to meet the guidelines and to increase the content of positive nutrients, such as fibre. Most UK diets are now far from deficient in vitamin C, as was the case 50 years ago, despite our whole fruit and vegetable intake still being lower than is recommended.

Table 5: High Potency Sweeteners (HPS) providing sugar-free ‘sweetness’

Soft drinks

In the 1960s, carbonated beverages were available in glass bottles that were returned by the consumer and reused by the manufacturers. Drinks were sugars-sweetened as there were no High Potency Sweeteners (HPS) of quality available and in any case sugar consumption was not the concern it is today.

Technologies developed for alternative, disposable packaging of these beverages helped them to become more available and affordable. The aluminium can started to make inroads in the soft drinks market by the mid-1960s and moulded PET bottles by the late 1960s. These were cheaper, lighter and suffered less breakage, compared to glass and today have almost completely replaced glass in the food industry.

Nowadays, sugars-sweetened carbonated beverages are an everyday item but have been subject to extensive criticism because of their high sugar content without additional nutrition, which has been linked to poor dental health and overweight and obesity conditions. Most soft drinks reflect the sweetness of fruit juices at about 10% and a 330ml can contains about 8 teaspoons of sugar and 132 kcals/561 kJ.

Sugars in most formulated soft drinks primarily provide sweetness and, of course, energy. HPS have found wide-spread application in soft drinks, where they provide sweetness without adding energy. HPS are much sweeter than sucrose on a gram for gram basis (30-10,000 times sweeter), so very little is needed to achieve the desired sweetness level. They also vary in their quality and stability. Most HPS are not metabolised and therefore contribute no calories to the diet.

The number of natural HPS currently available is limited and their use is highly regulated; flavour quality is an important issue. Thaumatin and glycyrrhizin are better described as flavour modifiers than sweeteners. Lo han guo or monk fruit is approved for use in a number of territories, but not the EU. Stevia’s use is more widely permitted but limited by category and use level in the EU[13].

EU regulations require a 30% calorie reduction as a minimum for the use of HPS[12] but, in practice, 50% or 100% reduction is a clearer position for consumers to understand. Nowadays, soft drink manufacturers, assisted by sweetener and flavour suppliers, have extensive experience of developing low/no sugar beverages. The industry has learnt to manage the significant flavour differences between a sugars-sweetened beverage and one sweetened with HPS to offer consumers palatable sugar-free/calorie-free/no added sugar products.

However, market success depends not only on flavour quality and parity with the full calorie product, but marketing position and ingredient use. The HPS that are effective in sugarfree beverages are synthetic and some consumers want only natural ingredients in their foods. Currently no permitted ‘naturally derived’ HPS can deliver the same flavour quality as a full sugar version.


Historically, bread was unleavened, much like today’s Indian chapattis, as there were no raising agents and it was made from available grains. In time, yeasted doughs developed and wheat became the grain of choice; milling the wheat allowed the production of white bread. Even in early civilisations, white flour became synonymous with refinement and was highly desirable, a situation that for many still exists today. Although the ability to make sliced bread was pioneered in the US in the early 20th Century, the war years saw the introduction of the National Loaf, which was withdrawn in 1956. As bread was an important staple, it was around this time that laws were introduced requiring all flour other than wholemeal to be fortified with calcium, iron, vitamin B1 (thiamin) and nicotinic acid.

The Chorleywood Bread Process (CBP), developed in 1961 by the British Baking Industries Research Association, revolutionised bread making in the UK. It started to impact the industry in the mid- 60s. Compared to the older bulk fermentation process, the CBP used lower protein wheat (which is typical of domestic wheat versus that from other geographies, such as Canada) and crucially produced the bread in a shorter time. Simultaneously, the time to make a loaf was dramatically reduced whilst allowing a much greater proportion of home grown wheat to be used in the grist. This led to the dominance of sliced and wrapped bread, with white bread being the most popular because consumers saw it as being unadulterated. Bread had achieved a level of quality, affordability and convenience that could not have been envisaged just a few years before and it remains a staple of most UK diets and an important contributor to our nutritional status.

However, more recently, it has been recognised that these sliced, typically white, loaves may not be providing an optimal combination of nutrients. Given that bread is such a staple, any ingredients that are out of step with recommendations can have a major impact on the overall diet. Hence bread, salt and to a lesser extent, fibre consumption are intrinsically linked.

The COMA (Committee on Medical Aspects of Food) report of 1994[14] was the first Government report to make recommendations on salt reduction proposing ‘A reduction in the average intake of common salt (sodium chloride) by the adult population from the current level of about 9g/day to about 6g/day’. This would require action from food manufacturers, caterers and individuals. The recommendation was driven by the relationship of salt intake to blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. It was followed by the SACN (Scientific, Advisory Committee on Nutrition)report of 2003[15], in which the target consumption of 6g/day was confirmed and there was a specific recommendation to reformulate foods that were significant contributors to salt consumption. ‘Cereal and cereal products’, which include bread, breakfast cereals, biscuits, cakes and pastries, were shown to the biggest contributor of salt at 2.5g salt/person/day and 37.7% of the total intake as measured by the Defra National Food Survey (2003)[16].

A series of targets for different food categories were set over the next few years, initially by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and then by the Department of Health, as nutrition policy moved from one organisation to the other. In March 2006, the FSA published voluntary salt reduction targets to encourage a reduction in the amount of salt in a wide range of processed foods by 2010. It later produced updated targets for 2012, which were published in May 2009. These targets were superseded by those of the Public Health Responsibility Deal from the Department of Health in 2011, which were the same as the earlier FSA targets with respect to bread. An updated pledge on salt for bread was introduced in early 2014 as a 2017 target, which requires a sales weighted average of 0.9g/100g salt or 360mg/100g sodium (average)[17].

Reformulation across a wide variety of foods including soups, sauces, ready meals and snacks has been achieved using taste enhancers and innovative salt replacers. Achieving salt reductions in bread has not been an easy task for manufacturers given that the salt not only provides taste benefits but also impacts on the handleability of the raw dough and the keeping quality and texture of the finished product. Developments have included the use of alternative non-sodium containing salts, but also changes to the processing, especially regarding the handling of dough prior to baking. This work has resulted in significant reductions in the salt content of bread and since the formal targets were introduced in 2006, salt in bread has reduced by 27% according to the Federation of Bakers which represents the branded bread makers[18].

Whilst bread reformulation has largely focused on salt, fibre should not be ignored. As the SACN report of 2015 on Carbohydrates and Health clearly highlights, there is insufficient fibre in the average UK diet. Many forms of bread (especially those containing bran, such as wholemeal) are already excellent sources of fibre and even white bread contributes to dietary fibre. CBP-produced bread has been formulated with added fibre so that ‘high’ fibre bread is available in a format familiar to consumers. Whilst artisan produced bread has seen a resurgence, even CBP bread is now formulated with seeds and multi-grain and has become a very popular part of the bread offering.

Bread spreads

In the 1960s, bread spreads were butter or hard margarine. The latter was available in blocks and was made by hydrogenating liquid vegetable oils to generate solid fat. It was mainly used for cooking as it did not offer an equivalent taste to butter as a bread spread.

In 1977, St Ivel launched a half-fat spread. This was a water-in-oil emulsion using proteins and hydrocolloids as stabilisers to form a solid spread. It consisted of 40% fat compared to 80% found in butter and regular margarine and had immediate appeal to the calorie conscious. Reformulation at this time was aimed at reducing fat to the lowest level technically possible – almost regardless of flavour. The value of fat from a nutritional perspective was poorly understood by both nutritionists and consumers, who saw it as an undesirable, calorie-dense food component. It was another decade before the nutritional values of different fats and their constituents, including the level of saturation, started to be better appreciated.

As understanding of flavours and hydrocolloids gradually improved, so did the quality and popularity of reduced fat spreads, not only because of their lower fat content but also the convenience of spreading straight from the fridge.

By the late 1990s, the safety of hydrogenation had started to be questioned. In this process, liquid oils are ‘hardened’ by adding hydrogen to stabilise the fat, making it easier to use in recipes for spreads and also biscuits, cakes and pastry.

Usually, the hydrogen slips into the fat at gaps (‘unsaturated bonds’) in the structure, taking up the ‘cis’ position, which occurs in nature as well. Sometimes, however, the hydrogen slips into the gap in a different position (trans position), altering the overall shape of the fat and making it difficult for the body to process. Foods containing hydrogenated vegetable oil may therefore also contain trans fats.

Industrially produced trans fats were shown to increase blood cholesterol levels and independently increase the risk of heart disease. Therefore, the WHO (World Health Organisation) recommended that the intake of trans fat should be significantly reduced[19].

The industry was quick to respond and reformulated most foods to replace hydrogenated fats. This rapid action caused trans fat intakes to quickly drop below the level of concern, pre-empting the setting of any formal Government recommendations[20].

The relaunch of trans-fat-free spreads enabled positive messaging about their composition, which has helped drive their acceptance. Olive, sunflower and rape seed oils were positively marketed as healthier fats containing omega 3 fatty acids. In the late 1990s, spreads with cholesterol-reducing stanol esters were introduced as an active ‘nutraceutical’.

Reformulation has had to simultaneously meet consumer expectations and support good dietary practices. Consumers make purchasing decisions in a constantly evolving environment. For example, the current upturn in sales of butter is thought to be driven by its desirable ‘natural’ perception and perhaps unfounded beliefs that saturated fats are not as ‘bad for us’ as was once thought.

Breakfast cereals

In the 1960s, breakfast cereals were limited to a small range of options, whereas today consumers expect variety. Muesli products first appeared in the early 1970s. Positioned as healthy, unprocessed and a good source of fibre, these products quickly found a place in our diets. Granola cereals led the way to cereal bars, a category that has grown significantly in recent years.

Breakfast cereals have several positive nutritional attributes that can impact the diet overall. Many of today’s most popular cereals contain a wide range of vitamins and minerals including, folic acid, thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin B6, vitamin D and iron. Research has shown that fortification can improve the status of such nutrients in deprived populations[21]. As breakfast cereals are customarily served with milk, there is also a positive impact on calcium intake. Dietary fibre present in the cereals is an important bulking component in the diet, reducing energy density and assisting the passage of food through the digestive system.

In the 60s, fibre was considered to be an insoluble, indigestible component in foods that contributes zero calories. However, understanding of the role of fibre in the diet has increased in recent years. Food fibre now includes soluble as well as insoluble fibres and it is recognised that the various non-digested carbohydrates, known as ‘dietary fibre’, provide a fuel source for gut microflora. They are partially digested in the lower colon and so contribute 2 kcals/g. Since many breakfast cereals are already high in fibre and carry a fibre nutrition claim, current concerns about a lack of dietary fibre[12] are likely to fuel further development in this category.

Whilst breakfast cereals contain valuable nutrients, they have recently come under scrutiny for salt and sugar content amid concerns over high consumption of these components. Like bread, there are salt reduction targets for breakfast cereals. Some breakfast cereals contain added refined sugars, but many (especially mueslis) contain dried fruits, which make sugar reduction virtually impossible and perhaps inappropriate. It is likely that those containing added refined sugars will be subject to further reformulation.

Food fibre now includes soluble as well as insoluble fibres and it is recognised that the various nondigested carbohydrates, known as ‘dietary fibre’, provide a fuel source for gut microflora.'


The main difference between consumers’ experiences in the 1960s and today is choice. The contribution of food science and technology to our diets over the last half century has been to increase the range of products available so that consumers can choose foods to suit their own lifestyles and nutrition-related goals. It has also helped to increase the affordability of safe food for all.

Consumers have a hierarchy of needs, which they meet through their food choices. Traditionally, these have been centred on affordability, quality and taste. Today convenience and nutrition can also be added. Consumers today make lifestyle choices, such as vegetarian, vegan, lactose-free and gluten-free, because convenience foods meeting these needs are widely available.

Manufacturers are doing much to make eating healthily the default position, be it through making overt nutrition or health claims or by so-called ‘stealth’ reformulation. In the latter case, foods are made healthier, but this is only apparent if the consumer carefully reads the ingredient or nutrition information. The food or drink looks and tastes the same as before, but contains reduced levels of the now less desirable components, such as salt, fat or sugar and, of course, energy.

Indeed, such is the appetite for reformulation by the industry that a recent review by the Consumer Goods Forum[22] estimated that during 2016, 180,000 products globally had been reformulated. This is an indication not only of the pressure being brought to bear on the industry by Government, NGOs or consumers themselves, but also the potential that catering to the ‘healthier’ category offers.

The food industry and regulators understand, and therefore manage, dietary considerations much more specifically than in the past (for example levels of inorganic arsenic in rice products), using reformulation and food science to enhance dietary performance. Moreover, where specific legislation is not enacted but there are Government policy guidelines, this also drives reformulation. The current PHE recommendations on sugar reductions aim to reduce the amount of sugar in foods that contribute most to children’s intakes of sugars, such as breakfast cereals and yoghurts. The aspiration is to reduce the sugar in these foods by 20% by 2020, with a 5% reduction in the first year (2017) and this will require further reformulation work.

Alongside nutrient reformulations, there have also been enabling developments in ingredients, processing and packaging. For example, salt reductions would not have been possible without adaptions to other elements of the product, such as controlled atmosphere packaging or alternative ingredients that maintain shelf-life.

Salt was originally used as a preservative and when removing it, adjustments to other ingredients are necessary. New HPS, including naturally derived sweeteners from stevia leaf, have enabled greater sugar reduction in soft drinks and beverages while maintaining acceptability to the consumer. Novel fibres and alternative protein and carbohydrate sources have all added to reformulation options with improved nutrient profiles.

Whilst consumers might not automatically choose foods that make up a balanced diet, food science and reformulation have allowed enhancements in the nutritional value of everyday foods. The changes in food provision highlighted here often go unrecognised, but most people will agree that the choices we have today have never been greater. Food science will continue to strive for safe, affordable, tasty and nutritious food for all.

Helen Munday Chief Scientific Officer, Food and Drink Federation, 10 Bloomsbury Way,

London, WC1A 2SL. Email

Lindsey Bagley, Flavour Horizons, Maidenhead, UK

Helen Munday was Director of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs for Coca-Cola from January 2010 to April 2015 and Lead Technologist AgriFood at InnovateUK from April 2015 to July 2016.


1. Office for National Statistics (2015) Results of the living costs and food survey.

2. Defra National Food Surveys (1942 – 2000)

3. McCance and Widdowson's the Composition of Foods. (2014) Seventh Edition

4. Sánchez NB, Sánchez GM, Salas-Salvadó J (2016)

5. Chen M, Sun Q, E Giovannucci, et al (2014) Dairy consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: 3 cohorts of US adults and an updated meta-analysis BMC Medicine 12:215

6. Eales J, Lenoir-Wijnkoop I, King S, et al. (2016) Is consuming yoghurt associated with weight management outcomes? Results from a systematic review. International Journal of Obesity 40(5):731-746.

7. European Commission (2017) Register of nutrition and health claims.

8. Parvez, S., Malik, K.A., Ah Kang, S. and Kim, H.-Y. (2006) Probiotics and their fermented food products are beneficial for health. Journal of Applied Microbiology, 100: 1171–1185.

9. Guillemard E, Tondu F, Lacoin F, Schrezenmeir J. (2010) Consumption of a fermented dairy product containing the probiotic Lactobacillus casei DN-114001 reduces the duration of respiratory infections in the elderly in a randomised controlled trial.  Br J Nutr. 103(1):58-68.

10. EFSA (2010) EFSA Journal 8(10):1763 [18 pp.].  Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to live yoghurt cultures and improved lactose digestion (ID 1143, 2976) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006

11. Public Health England (2017) Sugar Reduction.

12. SACN (2015) Carbohydrates and Health.

13. Official Journal of the European Union, (2008).

14. Department of Health (1994), The COMA report on "Nutritional Aspects of Cardiovascular Disease", HMSO, London

15. SACN (2003) Salt and health. The Stationary Office.

16. Defra Family Food Surveys (2002 - 2013)

17. Department of Health (2014) Salt reduction targets for 2017.

18. Federation of Bakers (2015) Factsheet 21

19. Uauy R et al. (2009) WHO Scientific Update on trans fatty acids: summary and conclusions. Eur J Clin Nutr 63:S68-S75

20. Food Standards Agency (2007)

21. Holmes B.A., Kaffa N, Campbell K, Sanders TA. (2012) The contribution of breakfast cereals to the nutritional intake of the materially deprived UK population Eur J Clin Nutr, 66 (1): 10-17

22. The Consumer Goods Forum, Health and Wellness Progress Report 2017

New FS and T website!

We encourage you to visit the new home for our Food Science and Technology quarterly magazine. This now sits as part of Wiley's Online Library. There, you can access all our past issues from 2017 up to our current issue. Access the new website here: 

View the latest digital issue of FS&T or browse the archive


Click here

Become a member of the Institute of Food Science and Technology