Responding to consumer demand and a new White House initiative to reduce childhood obesity, grocery manufacturers are pledging to make their products healthier by reducing the salt, sugar and fat in a wide range of products.
The Let’s Move! program, led by first lady Michelle Obama, places an emphasis on guidelines for healthy foods in schools, and Obama has urged manufacturers to reformulate foods to make them healthier for children. Obesity rates among U.S. children have doubled in the past 20 years, with almost a third of children overweight or obese.
Manufacturers, meanwhile, would prefer to avoid government regulation or intervention of their products and ingredients. While acknowledging that government standards make sense for the school environment, Scott Faber, a vice president at the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said the public marketplace is a different environment. “They respect our ability to find ways to produce more products that offer consumers more choices, including choices with less sodium, less sugar, less fat,” Faber told reporters.
“I don’t think it’s a bad faith effort on their part, but it’s something of a knee-jerk response to the anti-obesity and getting children healthier rhetoric,” said Daniel Fabricant, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at the Natural Products Association, based in Washington, D.C.
The GMA has launched a website, makingfoodbetter.com, to highlight the efforts of its member companies. The site notes the industry has already reformulated 10 thousand products in recent years, and big manufacturers are changing even popular products. For example, PepsiCo has vowed to cut levels of salt, sugar and saturated fats by 2020, and Kraft Foods, makers of Oreos and Velveeta, announced a ten percent cut in sodium levels over the next two years.
“Is ten percent less salt better than five percent less?” Fabricant asked. “Of course. But there are already better options out there in the natural products market. If you’re going to talk about healthier foods, you’ve got to walk to walk.”