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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.  

The programme aligns with the UK Government’s sugar reduction and wider reformulation programmes which encourage all food industry sectors to reduce calories, sugar and salt in foods which contribute the most to these intakes.

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.

Scone reformulation guidance

Scones were identified within the ‘morning goods’ category of the Eating Well Choosing Better programme as a food of particular relevance to the Northern Ireland (NI) population. Foods included in this category are amongst the top ten contributors to sugar intake in the UK. In NI, scones are frequently consumed as a mid-morning snack and are also regularly served at meetings and events.

The Food Standards Agency, in partnership with the 11 district councils in NI, surveyed and sampled a range of scones available from high street coffee shops during 2018, to determine the level of calories, fat, sugar and salt. The project found the average scone contained 408kcal (one fifth of the recommended daily calorie intake), 20g of sugar (equivalent to five sugar cubes) and 1.9g of salt (one third of the guideline daily amount) (FSA NI 2018).

FSA NI in partnership with the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise have created guidance (and a summary) to help businesses produce great tasting healthier scones lower in calories, fat, sugar and salt. The guidance contains recipes and tips businesses can use to make their own unique scones that meet the Government guidelines for calories, sugar and salt, as well as providing novel ideas on how to make smaller sized scones appealing to customers.

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