Nutritious, tasty and sustainable food – what was on offer at Food Matters Live?

14 December, 2016

How is the relationship progressing between food, health and nutrition? There are certainly some intriguing discussions and product launches happening, some of which were demonstrated at Food Matters Live, held at Excel in London between the 22 – 24 November.

The theme of Leatherhead Food Research’s own stand reflected a concern felt by many of our members, how to tackle the quest for sugar reduction. We at Leatherhead have been working on the science behind reduced sugar foods and wanted to demonstrate just a small part of what we do in an interactive format. We asked consumers to taste a standard product (a biscuit and a piece of chocolate) and a sugar reduced equivalent to see if they could firstly distinguish between the two and secondly understand their preferences and whether these changed once they knew which sample was which.

 66% of tasters preferred the sugar reduced sample

Taking first the chocolate samples, initially there was no significant difference between them on the 9 point overall liking scale (dislike extremely – like extremely) but when asked for their preference (before seeing branding and nutritional stats), 66% of tasters preferred the sugar reduced sample over the regular full sugar sample and were quite surprised to discover its identity. There was even a slight swing towards the reduced sugar sample in those who had chosen the regular sample once nutritional content was revealed, possibly due to liking scores being similar anyway. When it came to the biscuits, there was a significant difference in the overall liking mean scores – 5.48 for reduced sugar and 7.39 for the regular biscuit resulting in an 85% preference for the latter and less people were swayed to the reduced sugar option once nutritional content was revealed – possibly due to still preferring one sample quite strongly over another. We also showed the products under the microscope so that people could see how they differed – this was particularly apparent with the biscuit.


biscuit filter - fade


Leatherhead attended various talks and seminars on the topic of sugar reduction, one in particular attended by Gemma Cambray, Principal Scientist, resonates with our sugar reduction theme and discussed the technical challenges associated with reformulation to reduce sugar in food and drink.

Reducing the sugar can mean increasing the fat

Delivered by Prof. Julian Cooper, Visiting Professor at Reading University, the talk covered the scientific structure of sugar and discussed how its reduction in products affects texture, calories and consumer perception. Producers want to show their product is ‘30% reduced sugar’ for consumer appeal, however in a large number of products reducing the sugar means increasing the fat, which generally results in an unchanged or even slightly increased calorie content, which may leave a product open to attack on the obesity agenda.

The UK government is taking steps to tackle the growing childhood obesity epidemic by supporting healthier choices. One panel session, attended by Melissa Shone, Marketing Director of the Science Group discussed the effectiveness of the hotly debated sugar tax. Chaired by Sarah Montague (Today, Radio 4), the panel (psychologist, economists and public health consultant) assessed whether they thought that the sugar tax, due to be introduced from April 2018, was a good thing or not.  Tim Harford (behavioural economist) felt that taxation could play a role in impacting obesity but that an overall calorie tax might be fairer and more effective since this is only taxing sugary drinks. Chris Snowden (economist) was the only member of the panel who was profoundly against the introduction of this or any such tax and appeared pretty cynical about its unintended consequences.  The point was made that taxing sugar isn’t the same as taxing obesity – the success of sugar taxes in other countries (notably Mexico) has been measured on how they have impacted the purchase of sugar, not if they actually help reduce obesity.

Taxing sugar isn’t the same as taxing obesity

Chris Snowden rather amusingly contended that we could actually tax obesity by making us all declare our BMI on our tax-return, although he did add that clearly this is impractical socially, ethically and politically!  Katie Cuming stated the real problem we have with obesity – up to 1 in 3 children leaving primary school is obese as is 1 in 2 adults rising to 2 in 3 in some parts of the country.  She feels that fizzy drinks are a key component of childhood obesity and that as they have almost no nutritional benefit (which other high-sugar foods may be able to claim), they are an ideal target for a sugar tax. A simple show of hands from the audience as to whether people thought the tax a good thing or not produced inconclusive results – sugar is definitely under the spotlight and the debate continues to rage.

Continuing with the sugar reduction theme, Leatherhead has been working with manufacturers to reformulate their products to contain less sugar. Cindy Beeren, VP Consumer, Sensory and Market Insight at Leatherhead spoke and chaired the session ‘Practical lessons learned: reformulating to reduce sugar’ and Jenny Arthur, Head of Nutrition, presented at the Food & Drink Federation’s (FDF) special ‘Sugar reformulation & labelling seminar for SMEs’ providing an overview of the sugar reformulation guide developed by Leatherhead for the FDF. To read the full guide, click here.

Whilst the discussion regarding healthy eating carries on, it becomes important to consider how we can achieve a healthier lifestyle from different perspectives. Lucy Beverley, Marketing & Communications Manager, attended a talk by Prof. Brian Wansink, Director Cornell University Food and Brand, who discussed an interesting tact for encouraging healthier food choices for foodservice companies.

102% increase in fruit consumption just by putting it in a pretty bowl

Simple ways to make it more convenient, attractive and ‘normal’ for consumers to make healthier choices include improving the descriptions of products on menus to make them sound more appealing, as well as positioning food so healthy options are easier to reach. In his work with schools, Prof. Wansink found that students are more likely to choose water and healthier meals over unhealthier options if they are placed at the front. He also found there was a 102% increase in fruit consumption just by putting it in a pretty bowl.

Following this theme, Jenny Nunn, Consumer Operation Technician, listened to a panel discussion around the psychology of food choice with speakers including Bee Wilson, Prof. Pierre Chandon, Daniel Glaser and Dr Rob Post.

Changing habits to condition a certain way of thinking about certain foods

Currently, only 16% of children in the UK eat 5 portions of fruit or vegetables a day with many even suffering ‘vegetable anxiety’. Obesity stems from a feeling of imbalance, ‘satiety’ or the feeling of being full which is driven by stimulation of the mind. The panel discussed the need to change mental structures through habit and social environment from a young age and to condition a certain way of thinking about certain foods. Dr Post recognises ‘the nutrition gatekeepers of society (parents, schools, marketing and education)’ and their responsibility to set an example in order to reduce obesity. He implemented the Let’s Move campaign in USA, and advised First Lady Michelle Obama on nutrition in the White House, giving tangible ‘how to’s’ and exercise regimes. Should the UK implement a similar campaign? An interesting discussion point, nonetheless.

Looking instead from a sensory point of view as to why consumers make the choices that they do, Silvia Peleteiro, Applied Research Manager at Leatherhead, chaired and also presented on how sensory and consumer sciences can be used to promote products and brands.

The concept has to match the sensory characteristics of the product, in order for consumers to ‘get it’

Silvia talked about how sensory research can help to strengthen brands through forging a deeper connection with consumers and explained the process that consumers go through in deciding to purchase a product. Whether you are a new brand or well established in the market, the concept has to match the sensory characteristics of the product in order for consumers to ‘get it’. When it comes to the initial purchase it’s the packaging that plays a key role. Once consumers are convinced to buy the product the first time, this is when sensory characteristics really step up and need to deliver.

The overwhelming impression from walking around the exhibition stands at Food Matters Live was that the health agenda – in all its forms – is driving new product development. Sensus highlighted dark and milk chocolate, both containing inulin from chicory root and completely sugar free. Googly fruit aims to make fruit and vegetable products more attractive to children with eye-catching branding. Water has seen its share of innovation with the protein water company showcasing its protein infused product and AlternativeOMEGA3WATER having managed to encapsulate Omega 3 in a nano film which does not dissolve in water but dissolves in the stomach, allowing people to intake Omega 3 made from ultra-high potency fish oil without the fishy flavour!

The health agenda – in all its forms – is driving new product development

Insects as an additional source of protein were also pretty big; mealworm snacks were available to try from Micronutis in flavours such as barbecue or thyme to be consumed with a glass of sauvignon blanc, for example; and One Hop Kitchen were offering tastings of Bolognese sauce made using crickets and mealworms. With so many emerging new products with various different health or sustainability benefits, it’s safe to say that innovation is happening in the food space wherever you look.

Overall, the event presented many visible instances of innovation in the health food space and provided an opportunity to listen to valuable discussions around health, sensory lessons, sugar and more. There seemed to be a prevailing wind of change – with the efforts from the 600+ exhibitors and their often new and exciting products with health or wellness benefits and the topical 80+ seminars and discussions. If you would like to learn more about these or any of the topics mentioned in this article, get in touch by emailing [email protected]

Remember Leatherhead can help you with:

  • Reformulating your product for reduced sugar, salt, fat or to hit a particular pricing point
  • Internationalising your market reach through helping you understand the global regulatory structures to allow maximum permissibility of your product
  • Creating a scientific blueprint for your product so that you can standardise product quality even if you change elements of the manufacturing process
  • Optimising the appeal of your product to consumers by understanding its sensory profile

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