Eating Well Choosing Better

Northern Ireland specific
Explains the Eating Well, Choosing Better programme and the goals this initiative aims to achieve.
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The Eating Well Choosing Better programme supports small and medium sized businesses with food product improvement and smaller portion sizes to help consumers make healthy choices.

Along with the Eating Well Choosing Better programme, we work with the Northern Ireland industry to make food healthier by:

  • reformulating products to lower the levels of sugar, salt or fat in foods
  • reducing the portion size, and/or the number of calories in single-serve products
  • shifting consumer purchasing towards lower or no added sugar products

The project was included in the Northern Ireland Programme for Government consultation. In Northern Ireland, we are preparing an action and delivery plan in line with Public Health England in the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

Consumer perceptions research 

We commissioned independent research exploring Northern Ireland (NI) consumers’ perceptions of product reformulation (to reduce levels of sugar, saturated fat and salt) and reduction in portion size by the NI food industry.

The research focused on categories included in the Eatwell Guide and Public Health England's sugar reduction programme:

  • Breakfast cereal
  • Morning foods (Croissants, scones, pancakes, etc)
  • Ice cream
  • Yoghurt
  • Cake
  • Pudding
  • Biscuits

The key findings were:

  • Acceptance for food reformulation exists regardless of what people believe the rationale for it is or who they think is driving it.  However, acceptance is significantly lower when people are told that it is driven by industry than when told that it is driven by government or when not told anything at all
  • Acceptability of reformulation (both reformulated and resized products) rests on three conditions – that the new products match old ones in terms of taste, value and health/safety properties of replacement ingredients (i.e. that they are no worse for people than the originals)
  • Acceptability of resized products is generally lower as people believe consumers are losing out at manufacturers’ gain
  • While there is broad acceptability, consumer concerns surrounding taste, value and health/safety properties will need to be addressed in roll-out and communications to guarantee the initiative’s success. Shoppers are making quick on-the-spot decisions often guided by habit.  Both changes to the retail environment and clear in-store and product information will be key
  • The retail environment is seen as the logical place for engagement initiatives such as in-store demos, tastes tests and information stands – given the questions people have surrounding reformulation, being able to engage with new products prior to purchase can help allay doubts, create positivity and raise general awareness in turn prompting word of mouth
  • Finally, there is an important role for public education and a proactive government voice to build public trust in the initiative and make the consumer benefits of reformulation clear