Director of communications, Food and Drink Federation
The theatre next to our offices in London’s Covent Garden is currently home to the hit stage show Oliver. Music lovers among you will remember the iconic moment in this show, when the eponymous star stands up in front of Mr Bumble and says "Please Sir, can I have some more?"
I found this image popping into my mind the other day as I was mulling over some of the pressures being placed on bakers and others in industry to keep reformulating their products. The irony is that, in our working lives, the roles have been somewhat reversed: we are cast as Oliver and it’s Mr Bumble who is demanding, not asking, ever more from us.
The industry does have a responsibility to rise to the challenges faced by society in tackling serious health issues, such as heart disease and obesity. And our sector’s world-class innovation skills have allowed us to develop new products for consumers and refresh old favourites so that they are lower in calories, fat or salt. But changing the recipes of much-loved brands needs to be done carefully, so as not to affect product quality. I would argue the UK industry is now leading the way on the reformulation of popular products meeting health concerns in a way that makes no compromise on taste.
That said, policy-makers do need to appreciate that change on this scale requires a huge financial commitment and that there are limits as to how far bakers can keep pushing the technical barriers.
Sadly, we are seeing few public signs of any such realism in policy-making. But then Mr Bumble always was a bit of a greedy bugger, wasn’t he?