Healthier products cannot tackle obesity crisis alone, says expert, as Nestlé discontinues non-HFSS Shreddies

17 Aug 2022

Creating lower-sugar products will “not solve the obesity crisis by itself, especially if these options are so quickly discontinued”, says one expert, as Nestlé withdraws its non-high-fat-high-sugar (HFSS) ‘Shreddies The Simple One’ breakfast cereal after just one year.

This is according to Emma Calvert, the senior food policy officer from European Consumer Organisation BEUC, speaking to Ingredients Network. Nevertheless, the Swiss food giant’s decision may not have come as a surprise to some.

Healthier products cannot tackle obesity crisis alone, says expert, as Nestlé discontinues non-HFSS Shreddies
© AdobeStock/thebigland45

New product development “rarely sticks and survives the year,” Sonia Pombo, campaign manager at UK lobby Action on Salt, told Ingredients Network, while analysts from Euromonitor International noted that the move could be a reflection of ongoing economic instability – despite high consumer demand for healthier non-HFSS options.

BEUC’s Calvert went on to note that Nestlé also discontinued the lower-sugar bar ‘Wowsomes’ in 2020 after “just two years,” adding that fellow food giant Kellogg’s discontinued its lower-sugar ‘Frosted Flakes’ cereal in the US.

Nestlé did not comment on the reasons for its decision to delist The Simple One, and declined to respond to the experts’ comments.

However, in an emailed statement, a spokesperson did say: “We constantly review our cereals portfolio and delisted Shreddies The Simple One as part of a range review.

“Nestlé Cereals has a long-term commitment of improving the nutritional value of its cereals through reformulation, and consumers still have the option of non-HFSS products from our core Shreddies range as well as new low-sugar varieties of family favourite brands, such as Cheerios Vanilla O’s.”

Some stock will remain available in “a couple of retailers over the next few months,” the company added.

The cereal – intended to have fewer ingredients than the standard breakfast option, including just whole grain wheat, fruit puree, date syrup and a “pinch of salt with 5% less sugar” – had been launched in April 2021 in a bid to meet consumer demands for healthier foods after the pandemic. It came amidst a shakeup with authorities pushing for healthier products on the shelves, including the UK government’s plans to restrict retail promotion of HFSS foods.

BEUC: Reformulation is important but no one tool can tackle obesity crisis

BEUC’s Calvert stressed, however, that the causes of the ongoing obesity and overweight crisis are multifactorial, not solely driven by healthy products on the shelves.

“Multiple aspects of the unhealthy food environments in which consumers make their purchasing decisions render it very difficult to opt for the healthier choice,” she told us.

“Price, availability, in-store promotions or the heavy marketing of foods high in sugar, fat or salt on TV or online can all push shoppers towards such foods and away from healthier options. Reformulation is important but no one tool can be relied upon to tackle unhealthy food environments as a whole.”

She added that the vast majority of food marketing is “unfortunately” for foods which are high in fats, salt and sugar.

“Similarly, most supermarket food and beverage price promotions or key selling locations are for products which are high in these nutrients of concern. Tackling these elements of the food environment could help to reduce the pressure on consumers to go for the HFSS options.”

Reformulation of well-loved products is crucial

Calvert went on to urge food makers not to limit reformulation efforts to “only producing slightly healthier versions of the same chocolate bar,” adding that they should also seek to reformulate popular bestsellers which can often be very high in sugar, fat or salt, buy are “rarely targeted by companies for reformulation”.

Pombo agreed, stressing that: “The most effective way of improving sales of these products is to gradually reformulate their existing product range. Reformulation of products to contain less salt has been done successfully for nearly 20 years now, and improving the health profile of products already on the market will benefit the whole population and result in less consumption of saturated fat, salt and sugars.

“Labelling a product as ‘new’ and with a myriad of nutrition claims on pack is unlikely to interest the general public long term.”

Non-HFSS products pulled despite high consumer demand

Asked why non-HFSS products, such as The Simple One, continue to be pulled from shelves despite seemingly high consumer demand and the ongoing push from authorities to limit the reach of HFSS marketing, Euromonitor analysts said that economic instability could be playing a part.

“While demand for non-HFSS products remains high, the current economic instability as well as the upcoming location-based limitations in stores are impacting the market.”

Brands have responded to ongoing price increases for commodities in different ways, “one of which has been a [stock-keeping unit] SKU rationalisation exercise,” they added.

“This means, some brands have reduced the variety of products per line. On top of that, the restrictions will likely take off shelf space away with brands rethinking their offer in stores.”

Euromonitor: Nestlé’s Shreddie decision could be SKU rationalisation strategy

The Euromonitor analysts went on to point out that it is significant that Nestlé already has a non-HFSS option with the core Shreddies range. “This seems to be in line with the SKU rationalisation strategy some brands have implemented.”

Meanwhile, Action on Salt’s Pombo added that the reasons new product developments in the space rarely survive the year are “not necessarily indicative of a product not tasting great”.

“Food purchasing decisions are made for a number of personal reasons, be it social, ethical, cultural, or financial, as well as an individual’s loyalty to a brand. The success of a product also depends on its availability, location in store, price, style, and level of marketing. Depending on how the product was marketed is likely to have made a significant impact on sales,” said Pombo.

Cheap unhealthy food remains ‘in abundance’

Pombo went on to say that, although consumers are keen to eat healthier, access to cheap unhealthy food in abundance and the current economic environment “makes it almost impossible to do so”.

She went on to call for policies which make it easier for people to make healthier choices, including restrictions on marketing and advertising of unhealthy foods – like those incoming in October in the UK – and mandatory reformulation.

“It vital that food companies look to improve their existing range of products, and not create new ones that end up having to compete with existing products on the market that have already established a strong customer following,” said Pombo.

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