The industry's increasing focus on healthier foods was flagged up by food processors at the annual conference of the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council (NZFGC) last week in Wellington.
The trade body said that food companies and retailers are continually working to deliver options for a balanced diet and the progress to date has delivered major benefits across the board.
NZFGC chief executive Katherine Rich told FoodNavigator-Asia that there is a growing trend towards healthy eating, and that the challenge for food companies is to ensure that their products are healthier but unchanged otherwise.
Rich said that some food companies have had access to new research and technology, which allows them to make improvements without wrecking taste profiles for consumers.
“If food companies can make reformulation improvements and the product remains the same or similar then it's good for companies and consumers,” she said.
Rich added that the environment was right for a shift towards healthier foods, in terms of the investment required on the food processor's end, but that beneficial and accurate research and development is critical.
“Producing lower salt or fat products is not just a case of whipping salt or fat out of the recipe, hoping for the best and that consumers won't notice. Commercial food production is complex and often changes need to be made in stages so that consumers' palates can adjust,” she added.
She pointed out however that there are limitations to what can be achieved in this regard by food processors in New Zealand, and not all demands for healthier products are feasible.
“Many popular foods have salt, fat or sugar. Food producers can only reformulate so far before lowering the amounts affects the taste and other parts of the product,” said Rich, citing bread as an example where the salt can be lowered only so far before it means you can't make bread at all.
“There have been cases in New Zealand where firms have made dramatic changes to products but have not given consumers time to adjust and it's meant lost sales,” she added.
Rich warned that while it's one thing to reformulate, but quite another to secure sales as while the food industry can provide healthier options, it can't force shoppers to put them in their supermarket trolleys.
“Food companies know well that they can have all sorts of great ideas, but if consumers don't buy and consume the healthier choices, these new products won't last long on the shelf,” she said.