The food industry has just been served with a healthy spoonful of bitter sweet sugar guidance from Public Health England. The new voluntary guidelines will limit the amount of sugar found in products across nine food groups. If you work in food and think this doesn’t apply to you then think again. It’s going to impact on all corners of our industry, from retailers to manufacturers, QSR’s to coffee shops. The word is, if food companies don’t follow the advice, then it could signal full-on regulation in the future and you know what that means…. sugar tax! Yes, just like we’re about to see introduced on soft drinks. So, it’s time to take action on sugar.

The new guidelines from PHE will be applied to some of our best-selling food categories: cakes, biscuits, chocolate and sweets, ice cream, puddings, yoghurts, breakfast goods and sweet spreads. It calls for a 20% reduction in sugar levels by 2020 which would mean a massive 200,000 tonnes of sugar per year removed from the market. To achieve this there needs to be a terrific amount of effort and speedy product reformulation, especially given the timescale. Firms are challenged to cut sugar by 5% in this year alone.

We can certainly expect to see shrinking chocolate bars and ice creams in the coming months, as some businesses roll out a change in portion size as a quick fix to hit calorie counts. But others will go much further in order to step up to the plate. By embracing science and technology, companies will reduce their sugar content and in doing so bring exciting new innovation and product reformulation to market. Low and no added sugar varieties will become more and more commonplace in shops and out of home outlets.

But will this leave a bad taste in the mouths of consumers, as their favourite sugary treats get tinkered with? The answer is probably not, just as-long-as we get it right. Sugar removal has been happening for years across many different types of foods with the help of food scientists in laboratories. Nestle is just one very recent story of a food business that has already taken action and is leading by example. Earlier this year it announced that its researchers had made a scientific discovery enabling them to structure sugar differently so that 40% less is used. It has since confirmed its famous brands Kit Kat, Yorkie and Aero brands will contain 10% less sugar by next year. We can therefore expect to hear very many more stories like this, as food businesses start to shout about their health and nutrition strategies and the exciting NPD they are bringing to market. Indeed, the team at Jellybean will be working with our clients to do just that, after all it’s our mission to help food and drink brands hit the sweet spot (see what I did there!)

Few will disagree with PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie when he says that “reducing sugar in the nation’s diet will be good for health”. After all none of us working in the food industry take any pleasure or satisfaction from knowing that a third of our children are leaving primary school overweight or obese and the impact that obesity is having on the costs of running the health service and on the overall health of the nation. Sugary food and drink is a contributor to the obesity epidemic of course, but there are many other factors outside of our industry that need to be addressed too. I am in no doubt that our great food and drink industry will rise to the challenge and use these new guidelines as a unique opportunity to demonstrate our global leadership in healthy food innovation. But it’s going to need us all to pull together.