Reformulation seeks to restructure the food and drink environment and, when used in parallel with other initiatives, can lead to changes in dietary patterns for a population. For health purposes, the food environment can be restructured by making small, incremental positive changes to product formulations, sometimes referred to as ‘health by stealth’, providing consumers with a wider access to, and a larger number of, more healthful products. For the general population, a significant proportion of daily energy intake is likely to come from manufactured foods, exemplifying that the actions of the private food sector holds tremendous potential to influence the diet of a population, in terms of scale and reach. From an economic perspective, it has been identified as one of the most effective nutrition policy interventions, measured in disability-adjusted life years saved.
In many cases, food manufacturers and food service operators already have commitments in place to reformulate products towards healthier nutritional profiles. For instance, the 10 largest global food and drink companies have sugar reduction policies and programs. Furthermore, the introduction of the voluntary front-of-pack nutrition labelling scheme in Australia and New Zealand, the Healthy Star Rating system, has been found to influence nutritional profiles of food products.
Australia has already taken steps to improve the nutritional profile of the food supply through the Food and Health Dialogue, a joint government, public health and industry initiative undertaken from 2008-2013. The Dialogue resulted in the achievement of significant sodium reductions in a group of targeted food products, including breads, breakfast cereals, pasta sauces, processed meats, soups, savoury pies and pastries, savoury crackers and potato, corn and extruded snacks. Other government-led reformulation programs have been completed or are in progress on a global level. These programs demonstrate the ability of a centrally co ordinated program to ‘level the playing field’ and rally the food industry collectively behind a single set of ambitious yet achievable goals to improve the overall healthiness of the food supply.
The Partnership Reformulation Program builds upon current and previous work undertaken by the food industry in Australia and takes into consideration global examples of reformulation targets to assist in gauging technical feasibility.