Supermarkets may help you consume lesser calories without even letting you know

Washington: Supermarkets could now help their customers to establish a little healthy lifestyle, by tweaking the calorie content in their product recipes. As the name suggests, the ‘silent’ product reformulation lets the supermarket to make small changes to the recipes of their own-brand food products, without notifying the consumers explicitly.

So keeping a few secrets will be fair if it helps the consumers to embrace a healthy lifestyle.

Professor Jorgen Dejgaard Jensen, lead author of the study, said, “Silent product reformulation may not achieve dramatic reductions in the population’s calorie intake, but there seems to be little doubt that it can reduce calorie intake, and that it can do so at a relatively low cost.”

The researchers analyzed data after a silent reformulation of eight products, conducted by a Danish retail chain between March 2013 and 2014. The retailer made changes to the recipes of its own-brand mayonnaise, fruit yoghurt, pumpkin seed rye bread, toasting buns, yoghurt bread, carrot buns, whole-grain rolls, and chocolate muesli. Nutrition fact labels were updated to reflect the recipe changes which were not told to customers.

The analysis showed that for six products, calorie sales in the overall product category dropped between 0 and 7 percent after the changes had been made. Some costumers swapped reformulated rye bread and chocolate cereal for higher-calorie alternatives, which undermined the calorie-reducing effect of the reformulation for the product categories ‘chocolate muesli’ and ‘bread’.

However, for the majority of products such indirect substitution effects were outweighed by the positive effect of the reformulation.

Professor Jensen said, “The product reformulations investigated in the study can be considered as ‘marginal’ changes in the recipes, focused on maintaining the original taste and appearance of the individual products. Larger recipe changes might induce more significant behavioural adjustments. Previous research has indicated that through a sequence of such marginal product reformulations, it may be possible to undertake more substantial changes in food products’ nutritional characteristics, and still maintain consumers’ acceptance of the products.”

The researchers also checked whether behavioral responses would impact the retailer’s sales turnover and found that product reformulations affected retailer’s sales turnover quite less, which indicates that such reformulations can be done at relatively low cost for the retailers.

Adding, “Food product reformulation is considered to be one among several measures to combat the rising prevalence of overweight and obesity. Food manufacturers are continuously developing and marketing new ‘low-calorie’, ‘low-fat’ or ‘low-sugar’ varieties of processed food products. However, the health promotion potential of more ‘silent’ product reformulation has been largely ignored in research. Our findings suggest that silent reformulation of own-brand products can be effective in reducing calorie consumption by consumers.”

The study was published in the open access International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. (ANI)