UK sugar reduction figures show improvements in dairy sector

By Jim Cornall contact

- Last updated on GMT

The PHE Sugar Reduction Progress Report between 2015 and 2019 shows progress in retailer and manufacturer-branded yogurts, fromage frais, and milk-based drinks. Pic: Getty Images/Andrey Elkin
The PHE Sugar Reduction Progress Report between 2015 and 2019 shows progress in retailer and manufacturer-branded yogurts, fromage frais, and milk-based drinks. Pic: Getty Images/Andrey Elkin

Related tags: Sugar, sugar reduction, Dairy, Yogurt, Milk

The latest Public Health England (PHE) progress report on sugar reduction has been published, with findings showing reductions in sugar in the yogurts and milk-based drinks categories.

The PHE Sugar Reduction Progress Report between 2015 and 2019 shows progress in retailer and manufacturer-branded yogurts, fromage frais, and milk-based drinks.

Yogurts and fromage frais – which also includes dairy alternatives – have recorded the second largest decrease in sugar per 100g and the largest decrease in calories per single serve of all the food categories included in the sugar reduction program. There was also a 22.1% reduction in sugar (per 100ml) for pre-packed milk-based drinks and a 13.4% drop for pre-packed fermented yogurt drinks.

For the simple average sugar content (g/100ml), there were large reductions for pre-packed fermented (yogurt) drinks (down 26.0%), pre-packed flavored milk substitute drinks (down 21.7%), and pre-packed milk-based drinks (down 21.0%).

The results for the sugar reduction program in retailer and manufacturer branded food showed yogurts and fromage frais achieved the second largest sugar reduction, with a 12.9% reduction since 2015, and the largest decrease in calories (for products to be consumed on a single occasion) was recorded for yogurts and fromage frais, achieving a 7.8% reduction.  Ice creams, lollies and sorbets saw a 6.4% decrease.

The yogurt and fromage frais category was limited to products between 100g and 200g.

There has been an 11.2% reduction in calories per single serve for pre-packed milk-based drinks and 4.1% reduction for pre-packed fermented (yogurt) drinks.

The figures also showed increases in sales of and ice cream, lollies and sorbets (up 8.0%), while sales of yogurts and fromage frais were down 3.3%.

In the eating out of home sector, there was an increase in the simple average sugar content for open cup milkshakes of 4.1%, but a decrease in the number of calories likely to be consumed on a single occasion of 10.3%.

Related to changes in sales weighted average total sugar per 100g by category and business between baseline (2015) and year 3 (2019) for retailers and manufacturer branded products, there was a 13% drop overall in the yogurt and fromage frais category, with Yoplait down 18%, Danone down 15%, and Yeo Valley Farms down 11%.  Müller did not give permission for its products to be evaluated.

For changes in sales weighted average (SWA) and simple average sugar per 100ml by category and business between baseline (2017) and year 1 (2019) for retailers and manufacturers, in the milk-based drinks category, Arla Foods saw a 1% drop, while FrieslandCampina did not respond and Müller UK and Ireland did not give permission.

In the fermented yogurts category, Danone saw a decrease of 4%, while Lactalis Nestle UK saw no change. Yakult UK Ltd dropped by 2% and Yoplait had a decrease of 6%.

In May 2018, unsweetened juice and sweetened milk-based drinks were incorporated into the sugar reduction program, and technical guidelines published. All sectors of industry were challenged to reduce sugar by 5% in juice-based drinks, and 20% for milk based drinks by 2021.

Milk-based drinks also had an interim ambition of 10% reduction by 2019. In January 2019 fermented (yogurt) drinks were added to the program, with a sugar reduction ambition of 20% by 2021.

The report said in the yogurt and fromage frais category, some errors were known to be present in the nutrition information for certain products such as implausible sugar content. Yogurts and fromage frais is the only category where a minimum sugar content of 3.8g per 100g was agreed due to the naturally occurring lactose present; all products with a sugar content lower than this were excluded from the analysis.

Natural yogurts and unsweetened yogurts are excluded from the category and, therefore also excluded from the analysis. In the progress report, sugar content, sugar SWAs and simple averages for yogurts are presented without any adjustment for lactose.

Dr Judith Bryans, chief executive of Dairy UK, said, “These results are fantastic and a testament to the dedication of dairy processors to reducing the sugar content of their products and meeting the reduction targets.

“In particular, the progress made in the milk-based drinks category is incredibly impressive. It shows the willingness and ambition of industry to reformulate their products, working together with PHE. We look forward to working with policy makers to build on these strong results and hope that the spirit of collaboration to achieve policy outcomes can continue.” 

Jo Churchill, Public Health Minister, said, “On sugar reduction, particularly in products like breakfast cereals, yogurts and ice cream, we have achieved some much-needed progress. This will make it easier for everyone to make healthier choices, but it’s clear more can be done.

“COVID-19 has highlighted obesity and how important it is to tackle it. Our recent announcement of the obesity strategy includes world-leading measures, such as a TV watershed for advertising food and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar, and consulting on how we can introduce a ban online. If more action is needed to support individuals to lead a healthy life, we will go further to help them.”

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE, said, “Too much sugar is bad for our health and most of us are consuming more than we need, often without realizing it.

“We’ve continued to see some progress in reducing sugar in a number of everyday food and drink products and this shows that success is possible through reformulation.

“Yet, overall progress remains too slow. Faster and more robust action is needed to help us consume less sugar, which will help us become healthier and lower the economic burden of obesity and preventable pressure on the NHS.”

The full report is available here​.

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