Food and drink suppliers have fallen short of government targets to reduce sugar.
On average, retailers and manufacturers have reduced the sugar in their products by 2% per 100g – well below the 5% target set by Public Health England for their first year of sugar reduction action versus a baseline set in 2015.
The stats do not include the cakes or morning goods categories, as PHE has not been able to collect sufficient data for these products. Sugar per 100g could not be calculated as too few had their accompanying weights available in both years, said PHE. It plans to report on these categories in next year’s results.
In the biscuits category, no reduction in sugar per 100g was recorded, although the calories typically consumed in a single occasion had fallen 3%. However, a drop of at least 2% in sugar per 100g was recorded in seven of the top 20 biscuit brands – Blue Riband, Cadbury Fingers, Fox’s Rocky, KitKat, McVitie’s Go Ahead Crispy Slices, Nabisco Oreo Cookie Cream and Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer.
In the case of puddings, the average sugar per 100g increased 1% and the calories consumed on a single occasion rose 4%.
Three categories – yogurts & fromage frais, breakfast cereals, and sweet spreads & sauces – met or exceeded the 5% sugar reduction target.
PHE said that, although the overall figure hadn’t met the 5% target, further sugar reduction plans from the food industry were in the pipeline, and that some reduction made to products were not captured in the data as they took effect after the first-year cut-off point.
“We lead the world in having the most stringent sugar reformulation targets and it is encouraging to see that some progress has been made in the first year,” said public health minister Steve Brine. “However, we do not underestimate the scale of the challenge we face. We are monitoring progress closely and have not ruled out taking further action.”
The Food & Drink Federation (FDF) said it was “encouraged” by the PHE report.
“It highlights some of the recent reformulation work undertaken by industry, with sugar reduction reported in five out of the eight food product categories,” said FDF corporate affairs director Tim Rycroft.
“In some categories we have always said that sugar reduction would be particularly challenging. Nonetheless, many of those categories have made good progress in reducing calories.”
Rycroft added that sugar reduction has considerable technical challenges as sugar plays roles beyond sweetness in food including colour, texture and consistency.
“It is for these reasons that we have long said that the guidelines are ambitious and will not be met across all categories or in the timescale outlined.”
Health campaigners Action on Sugar said the asessment showed more need to be done - particularly with regards to biscuits, chocolate confectionery, puddings and large-portion, high-sugar products sold in the out of home sector.
"It’s unfair and ridiculous that the out of home sector products are not being reformulated to the same extent," added Action on Sugar nutritionist Kawther Hashem. "Much stricter measures need to be in place to ensure progress is being made by the food industry and that the 20% sugar reduction target is met."