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Food manufacturers make progress on healthier foods


A new survey says many of Canada’s food manufacturers are making a concerted effort to offer healthier options to consumers.

The survey, done by Food and Consumer Products of Canada (FCPC), the organization that represents the manufacturers, says 61% of companies surveyed have reformulated existing products to make them healthier and 39% have introduced new healthier products since 2005.

Reformulations have mainly been to cut down or eliminate sodium, trans fats and saturated fats. New product launches have focused on reduced calories, carbohydrates, sugars, fats and sodium.

Manufacturers are now turning their attention to adding healthier ingredients, the survey suggested. Eighty-eight per cent of companies said they are working on new products designed to provide a specific nutritional benefit, and they plan to introduce these products in the next two to three years.

Derek Nighbor, senior vice-president of public and regulatory affairs with FCPC, said the survey was done to measure the progress Canadian food manufacturers have made in healthy foods.

“There is truly proactive work being done in Canada,” he said.

One health-food obstacle the industry is now focusing on is an across-the-board reduction in the sodium content.

Nighbor says Canada is one of three countries, along with Finland and the U.K., that has a strategy to cut back the amount of scitizens consume.

Through the federal government’s Sodium Working Group, FCPC says it wants to cut the average Canadian’s intake of sodium to 2,300 mg per day.

That’s still more salt than a person’s body actually requires, but it’s less than the 3,400 mg Canadians typically eat now.

Nighbor says the effort will be voluntary through manufacturers and cauationed it will take some time to change Canadians’ salt-loving habits.

He notes that Finland has lowered the amount of sodium its citizens consume by 30% but that it took 23 years to do so. The U.K. began its efforts some seven years ago and has just lowered consumption by 10%.

“The lesson it shows to Canada is this is a very complex issue.”

The survey released by FCPC last week is not a comprehensive report on the entire food manufacturing landscape. It involved just 25 companies, but they are among the largest food manufacturers in the country, including Campbell’s, Janes, General Mills, Mars, Heinz, PepsiCo, Post Foods, Conagra and Unilever.

In addition to making products healthier, some of the companies surveyed are trying to help consumers watch their weight. Seventy-three per cent of firms said they have a strategy in place to help consumers watch their caloric intake.

Some companies have introduced child-size packaging and 30% say they plan to offer single-serve packages of some products over the next two to three years. (Changing package sizes of course can also be a way to delay price increases.)

Companies are also marketing their healthy-eating efforts more. Seventy-seven per cent have run ads with a healthy lifestyle message.

One message aimed at nutrition is the current Health Canada campaign, supported by FCPC, that encourages Canadians to check the "per cent daily value" chart on a product's label (TV ad from the campaign is pictured above).

Recently Loblaw and Walmart came aboard the campaign and will offer in-store support to promote the campaign, said Nighbor. Independent grocers through the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers have been doing so since the campaign launched late last year.

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