Confectionery expert offers warning over government policy on sweets reformulation

UK confectionery expert Andy Baxendale has criticised government-backed public health agencies for potentially impacting on the industry through ‘families feeling guilty’ for enjoying sweets and chocolates during the upcoming Christmas season.

The sector specialist, who is a board member of Confectionery Production, said that in the last two years, public health bodies have set 220 different targets for reducing sugar and salt in common foodstuffs, with sweets the top priority.

These targets, drawn up by Public Health England, advise manufacturers on how to cut sugar consumption, which could force many household favourites off the shelves. Items such as boiled sweets like Sherbet Lemons, are made almost entirely of sugar, with the figure for many chocolate bars being between 40–50% and fudge is around two thirds sugar.

Baxendale’s warning on the state of the industry comes as a number of larger confectionery manufacturers are in initial phases of delivering reduced sugar alternatives in response to wider health concerns from consumers. This includes a protein-enhanced version of the classic Mars Bar, Nestle’s recent release of its Wowsome series and a new Dairy Milk, 30% reduced sugar series just released from Cadbury in a bid to respond to market trends.

The warning from Baxendale comes as Public Health England has just revealed that its target for manufacturers to reduce sugar by a total of 20% by 2020 appears unlikely to be met. This has been highlighted  with results from its latest survey period of 2015-2018, levels of sugar in chocolate confectionery fell by only 0.3% during that period, and by 0.6% with biscuits. Overall, the confectionery segment saw a 2.9% reduction in sugar for products that were eaten at home.

But according to Baxendale, who has a Master of Science in Advanced Food Manufacture, he insists that educating people about consuming confectionery in moderation was the only way forward. He said one of the new initiatives was trying to force firms to reformulate and remove sugar when there was no effective replacement.

“Sugar free sweets have a laxative effect from the sugar replacer, and sweeteners have, according to some research, dubious properties linked with disease and other conditions. Taxing sweets is not the way – look at cigarettes and alcohol – tax doesn’t make a difference – they are still used by loads of people.

“The government is setting unachievable levels for reduction of sugar and here we are, just about to start the run-up to Christmas and we are making people feel guilty about enjoying the sweets and chocolates which have been part of our traditional Christmas for generations. What are parents going to fill children’s stockings with? Are we going to go back to the days of giving our children a few walnuts and a satsuma?

“Education is the key – starting with the smallest children – dietary education about what a staple diet is and what treats are plus how many calories to eat to control your diet, maximise health and reduce obesity.
The nanny state needs to change its focus from being punitive to being informative.”

Baxendale is currently working to set up a National Academy of sweets to teach a new generation the art of confectionery production and development. He added: “People demonise sugar and blame it for obesity and ill health but contrary to all the bad publicity and Nanny State interference, sugar is actually needed for life – without it we simply can’t function. Sugar is an important part of a balanced diet and we need to get away from this idea that it is bad for us. It isn’t, it is actually very good for us.”

Speaking on the results of the latest Public Health England study, the organisation’s chief nutritionist Dr Alison Tedstone, believed that a degree of progress was being made by manufacturers, yet she felt that more could be done.

She said: “The report shows a mixed picture. Encouragingly, some businesses have made good progress in reducing sugar but some businesses and categories have made very little or none. We know the public wants the food industry to make food healthier. It is clear this can be done, but we urge the whole of the food and drink industry to keep up the momentum to help families make healthier choices.”


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