“Live issues in the wider food industry”, such as labelling and health, were debated at the Federation of Bakers’ (FoB) conference last week, as a panel session wrapped up the day’s proceedings.

Panellists Gill Fine, director of consumer choice and dietary health at the Food Standards Agency (FSA), Sainsbury’s trading director Mike Coupe, new Allied Milling & Baking group chief executive Brian Robinson and food writer Fiona Hunter took part in the session, chaired by The Grocer magazine editor Julian Hunt.

Fine told 120 delegates an ongoing public health campaign on salt reduction was “a challenge for everyone in this room”. The FSA welcomes the proactive response and long-term commitments of the baking industry and it recognises there are technical challenges ahead, she said. The industry could look at reducing salt levels in products with comparatively higher levels, she said.

Robinson commented that he believed there was further room for salt reduction, but this would require technical changes to the bread-making process. The industry was near the limit of what it could achieve under present circumstances, he said.

On the question of the forthcoming public consultation by the FSA on possible fortification of bread with folic acid (British Baker, April 7, pg 3), Coupe said his own opinion

was that it would be better to provide customers with informed choice, rather than legislating that folic acid be added as an ingredient across the range.

And in terms of tackling the issue of front-of-pack labelling, Robinson stated a personal preference for keeping labels on the reverse of the pack, where consumers are used to seeing them, and for keeping labels simple rather than overcomplicating packaging. However, no final decision has been made, and his company would follow the industry trend on the matter, he commented.

The panel also turned its attention to the news that the Office of Fair Trading is to refer the grocery market to the Competition Commission for investigation, following lobbying by industry groups, including the National Association of Master Bakers (British Baker, May 12, pg 3).

Coupe wondered how the boundaries for what promises to be a complex investigation will be set. For example, as supermarkets develop their non-food offers, would the whole retail industry – rather than just grocery – need to be investigated?

Robinson predicted the investigation will “cost a lot of money, achieve very little, and probably go on for years.”