Thought for Food Blog

How Do You Make a Healthier Product?

Post from guest blogger, Jenny Arthur BA (Hons) MSc RNutr, Nutrition and Marketing Consultant

One of the questions I am often asked by clients is how can we make our products healthier and by friends, what can I eat that’s healthy? With a new or existing product range I love starting with a blank sheet of paper and letting my creative juices flow… a bit like writing this blog.

Wholegrains | IFIS Publishing

What works and what doesn’t?

I start by thinking about what the consumer wants from a product or what they think they want – which can often be two very different things having watched numerous market research groups! When working at Marks & Spencer following a number of customer complaints I badgered the poor frozen food product developer to try and make an ice lolly with just orange juice….

So diligently off she went and a few weeks later came back with a pure orange juice lolly and a number of other samples with varying degrees of added sugar. Ah ha I thought – here we go, but when I tasted the pure orange juice lolly it made my cheeks pucker and my eyes water – not such a great idea after all! We progressed through the lollies with increasing levels of added sugar and settled on one that had about 2/3rd’s of the sugar of the original product.

The moral of this story is not to try to create the healthiest product possible, but opt for one that is healthier than the original product. It is important to understand and appreciate what is technically feasible and economically viable, always a good quality to have when approaching a product developer or technologist with an idea for a healthier product. There is no point in developing a product if no one is going to buy it!

Being a scientist and a marketer… I think I must be wired slightly differently, I often feel that nutrition is made more complicated than it needs to be, and that the press only pick up on small parts of the very big picture, it was definitely sugar at the start of this year. What consumers really want is healthy eating made simple, straightforward and convenient.

Multi-functional products

I am a strong believer in some things go together like red wine and cheese and some things simply don’t – a low fat chocolate bar! Consumers are looking for multi-functional products which deliver more than one benefit. A good example is porridge on the go, a healthier alternative to a croissant in a convenient format, will help people stay fuller longer and cut down on snacking. With the added bonus of no dirty pan left in the sink as there is in my house after the morning school run rush!

Consumers are happy with the familiar, simple changes like using whole and white pasta in a dish is an easy change for people to make that will go unnoticed, but will improve the nutrient density of the meal. Consumers are not looking for fancy functional ingredients but basic store cupboard items they recognise. Many small changes can make a big difference over time, by reducing calorie intake by just 50 kcal a day – that’s one biscuit over a year which can save the equivalent of putting on 5 pounds in weight!

The consumer also has a part to play by being aware of how to eat more healthily and make small changes. By understanding the benefits of eating a healthier diet from a health and wellbeing perspective consumers need to start demanding healthier products in order to increase the range available and make their development economically viable. Consumers are looking for everyday products to be healthier and not looking for diet or health ranges. This comes back to making it simple, straightforward and convenient for them.

Product reformulation is not going to happen overnight it is about short, medium and long term goals to achieve incremental reductions in the key nutrients saturated fat, salt and sugar that consumers are unaware of, in other words a covert approach. However, nutrient density is also a key consideration and something I will cover in my next blog.

Visit Jenny Arthur's website for information on nutrition and market trends, nutrition and health strategy, product and recipe development, and consumer communications.

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