Manufacturers failing to slash sugar content, but reformulation still possible

Manufacturers failing to slash sugar content, but reformulation still possible
Credit: Shutterstock.com/ Vereshchagin Dmitry

Many cake and biscuit manufacturers are failing to reformulate and reduce the amount of sugar sold in their products, a new study has warned.

The study, from Action on Sugar and published in BMJ Open, has investigated and documented the wide variation of sugar and calorie content in the same category of cakes and biscuits sold in the UK back in 2016.

It found that 97% of cakes and 74% of biscuits received a ‘red’ label for sugar. Despite this, they study showed that reformulation can be achieved.

In the paper, the average sugar content in cakes was 36.6g/100g coupled with a large variation in sugar content between different categories of cakes.

On average, Battenberg (56.4g/100g) contained the highest amounts of sugar, followed by Genoa (45.9g/100 g) and red velvet cakes (44.2g/100g), while blueberry muffins (24.6g/100g) contained the lowest amount of sugar.

More importantly, there was a large variation within the same category of cake e.g. among Victoria sponge or similar cakes, ranging from 23.4 to 59.2g/100g.

This variation demonstrates that reformulation can easily be done i.e. if some manufacturers can produce a similar cake with far less sugar or calories so can others.

In the per serving analysis, consumers can find a Victoria sponge with as little as 11.9g sugar compared with a slice containing 34.3g sugar – a difference of 6 tsp.

Similar to sugar, there was also a large variation in energy/calorie content between different categories of cakes.

On average, plain sponge with chocolate (446 kcal/100g) contained the highest amount of energy, while Genoa cakes (356 kcal/100g) contained the lowest amount of energy.

Again, there were large variations within the same category of cakes e.g. chocolate Swiss rolls, ranging from 366 to 500 kcal/100g.

Branded cakes had a slightly higher sugar content per 100g compared with supermarket own label (37.7g vs 36.3g).

Among the manufacturers with five or more cakes, the McVitie’s product range contained the highest average sugar (43.1g) and Premier Foods contained the highest energy (424 kcal) per 100g.

The average sugar content in biscuits was 30.0g/100g as well as a large variation in sugar content between different categories of biscuits.

On average, iced biscuits (43.5g/100 g) contained the highest amounts of sugar and shortbread biscuits (17.5g/100 g) contained the lowest.

More importantly there was a large variation in sugar content within the same category of biscuits, e.g. among breakfast biscuits, ranging from 12.0 to 30.9g/100g.

The average energy content in biscuits was 484 kcal/100g. Shortbread biscuits with additions (528 kcal/100 g) contained the highest amount of energy and fruit-filled biscuits (391 kcal/100 g) contained the lowest amount.

Similarly, there was a large variation in energy content in similar biscuit products, e.g. among jam and cream biscuits, calorie content ranged from 425 to 558kcal/100g.

Among the manufacturers with five or more products, the Fox’s product range contained the highest average sugar content, 35.8 g/100 g, and Dr. Schar product range contained the highest average energy content, 512 kcal/100 g.

The study has shown that reductions in sugar and energy/calorie content of cakes and biscuits are possible since there was a large variation in sugar and energy content between different cake and biscuit categories and within the same category.

A reduction in sugar and energy content, and overall cake and biscuit consumption, can help reduce overall sugar and energy intake in the UK and thus reduce the risk of obesity and tooth decay.

In 2016, the government’s sugar-reduction programme was launched, where food and drink companies were asked to reduce sugar in their products by 20% by 2020.

Manufacturers can choose to achieve the 20% reduction in a number of ways: by reformulating their products (without increasing overall calories), reducing portion size or promoting their lower-sugar products.

Kawther Hashem, co-author of the study and registered Nutritionist, for Action on Sugar at Queen Mary University of London says: “This research clearly shows the levels of sugar and calories in products can be reduced since there was a large variation in sugar and calorie content within the same category of cakes and biscuits yet worryingly not all manufacturers are complying.

“If some manufacturers can produce chocolate cake bars with 22% fewer calories per 100 g, so can others.”