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Private label reformulation as way to decrease overall calorie intake

Most of us are loyal to certain brands of whole grain cereal, bread and other staple grocery items.  But once that item makes it to your pantry shopping list, just how often do you re-visit the nutrition facts panel to make sure nothing has changed?  New research published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity shows that “silent” product reformulation may be an overlooked way to decrease calorie consumption by consumers.

Researchers analyzed sales data before and after reformulation of eight private label products for a Danish retailer.  Modifications focused on maintaining original taste and appearance while removing calories from fat and sugar. The retailer was able to reduce calories in their private label yogurt and mayonnaise by up to 17% and in baked goods by 5-10%. The nutrition fact labels were updated to reflect changes, but the changes were not formally announced to consumers. 

Researchers found that the number of calories sold dropped up to 7.5% after lower calorie products hit the shelves.  Some customers did opt for higher calorie cereals and buns, but these swaps were outweighed by the overall beneficial effects of the reformulation. 

These reformulations are a great example of the food industry and retailer efforts to reduce overweight and obesity across the globe. The decision not to announce the changes can come with consequences; the food industry risks losing the competitive advantage of appealing to the health-oriented consumer when they make healthy changes without announcing them, while on the other hand, should they announce the changes, customers may perceive a change in quality of the product and opt for another brand. It’s important to note that reformulations can work both ways and companies can increase sodium, fat and sugar without officially announcing it.  So savvy consumers beware, turn those packages to the side and ensure that those go-to pantry items continue to meet your personal dietary and nutrient preferences.    

Published October 1, 2017

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