IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Reformulation for healthier food: a qualitative assessment of alternative approaches


  • Traill, W. Bruce
  • Bech-Larsen, Tino
  • Gennaro, Laura
  • Koziol‐Kozakowska, Agnieszka
  • Kuhn, Sofia
  • Wills, Jo


Many prepared and take‐away foods contain high levels of ‘unhealthy’ nutrients such as salt, trans and saturated fats and sugar. As diets have developed to include higher proportions of these products, consumers intakes have grown beyond World Health Organisation recommended maximum levels. Countries have responded by regulatory action (Denmark’s banning of trans fats) or collaborative (voluntary) measures with industry. This paper presents findings from case study research in Denmark, the UK, Italy and Poland and at the EU level to address the research questions: Have reformulation actions been effective and cost‐effective? Is collaborative action between government and industry more likely to be effective than industry acting alone? Are there circumstances under which legislation is preferable to voluntary action? Are there benefits to European as opposed to separate Member State action? What are the implications for competition? We find that voluntary reformulation has worked with respect to trans fats and salt. In the UK and at the EU level, firms have made commitments and these have been monitored and acted upon with substantial reductions in levels of salt and trans fats in their products. Manufacturers and retailers (in collaboration with their own‐label suppliers) have done this largely for reasons of corporate social responsibility—it is good for their image to be seen to be conforming and it means they can’t (so easily) be held up by NGOs and the media as behaving irresponsibly. However, despite an impressive rate at which firms have signed up to make commitments to salt reduction, in the UK average intake has fallen by only around 10% to 8.6g, still far in excess of the 6g target. Also not known is the extent to which the voluntary approach leaves high levels of harmful nutrients in foods produced by some companies, perhaps targeted to specific markets. Consumer groups have argued that high levels of trans fats are present in the UK in low quality foods targeted at poor consumers and In Poland it is claimed some foods have 10‐12% trans fats and population intake levels are among the highest in Europe. NGOs and some policy makers believe mandatory standards are the best way to make sure all food is ‘good’ food. Whether it is possible to devise a system that maintains the benefits of the voluntary system but creates a safety net to ensure against any foods containing too high levels of salt and trans fat and saturated fat deserves further exploration. If so, this would probably need to be undertaken at the European rather than Member State level to avoid contravening EU food law. SMEs may need assistance to meet the technological challenges of reformulation. They do this at present through links to research associations and retailers, but such linkages are not well developed for firms in all Member States.

Suggested Citation

  • Traill, W. Bruce & Bech-Larsen, Tino & Gennaro, Laura & Koziol‐Kozakowska, Agnieszka & Kuhn, Sofia & Wills, Jo, 2012. "Reformulation for healthier food: a qualitative assessment of alternative approaches," 2012 AAEA/EAAE Food Environment Symposium 123511, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
  • Handle: RePEc:ags:aaeafe:123511

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Réquillart, Vincent & Soler, Louis-Georges & Zang, Yu, 2016. "Quality standards versus nutritional taxes: Health and welfare impacts with strategic firms," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(C), pages 268-285.
    2. PONSSARD Jean-Pierre & SINCLAIR DESGAGNÉ Bernard & SOLER Louis-Georges & GIRAUD HERAUD Eric, 2015. "The Agro-Food Industry, Public Health and Environmental Protection: Investigating the Porter Hypothesis in Food Regulation," Cahiers du GREThA 2015-21, Groupe de Recherche en Economie Théorique et Appliquée(GREThA).

    More about this item


    Food Consumption/Nutrition/Food Safety;

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:ags:aaeafe:123511. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (AgEcon Search). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.