Coca-Cola launched its version Light 35 years ago and since then there has been no turning back. The multinational now has more than 100 references of products without added sugar and its idea has been copied all over the world. "31% of the soft drinks that are in the Spanish market are already without calories," says Josep Puxeu, general director of the Refreshing Beverages Association. This and other sectoral organizations have committed to the Ministry of Health to reduce an average of 10% the percentage of sugar, saturated fats and salt of their products by 2020. A lukewarm measure according to doctors and nutritionists, which refers only to some references of processed products, but which will boost the competition in the industry to become a consumer increasingly concerned about their health.
According to a study by the insurer Aegon, 57% of consumers are willing to pay more for healthier products. "The trend is clear and, if it were for us, we would eliminate the sugar," acknowledges José Ramón Iglesias, director of R + D + i of Central Lechera Asturiana, one of the 398 companies involved in the agreement that brings together the majority of manufacturers , supermarkets, catering companies and vending. Since 2016, Asturiana has managed to reduce by 30% on average the amount of added sugars in their yogurts and shakes, relying on substitutes such as stevia and natural aromas. "But it's difficult," says Iglesias. In addition to conferring consistency and texture in certain processes, sugar is essential for its taste: "The consumer is used to very sweet products"
The sausage company El Pozo confirms that "the real challenge" when innovating is the acceptance of the market. The agreement establishes different objectives depending on the sector, and for meat derivatives it proposes to reduce the amount of saturated fats by 5%, sugars added by 10% and salt by 16%, fundamental in the conservation processes but the source of hypertension and obesity, whose consumption should not exceed one teaspoon per day, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). "[Encontrar sustitutos] It is a very complex process, "says the Murcian company, which already has a line of products with reduced salt content, fat and saturated fat.
"The economic investment that the industry supports is high," adds Laia Mas, director of Public Affairs and Sustainability at Danone. The French multinational has also been studying for years how to continue reducing the amount of added sugar in its products, but without replacing it with sweeteners. But he explains that they play with the ferment, the acidity, the aromas, but warns that the focus should not be lost: "You have to educate yourself in healthier habits" The same thing stands out for the snack company Grefusa, which also takes time to reduce the salt and fat of its snacks: "The main thing is that the consumer always opts for a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. For this, we believe that education and awareness are the most important ".
The signatories of the agreement are mostly manufacturers of products of occasional consumption - salty snacks, cookies, soft drinks or prepared dishes. Many of them have been studying how to obtain healthier foods beyond the agreement with the Administration -which also does not establish sanctions in case of non-compliance-, but in line with what the market demands. And reason why 15 Spanish scientific societies from different areas have lamented that the agreement "prioritizes the economic interests" of the food industry rather than "the health of the population."
According to Deloitte, 88% of the big food companies introduced in the world market in 2017 products formulated or reformulated to satisfy a consumer who is looking for a healthier lifestyle. "Even if the agreement were met to the letter, the impact on health would be minimal," says Miguel Ángel Royo, of the nutrition work group of the Spanish Society of Epidemiology, one of the first associations to criticize the agreement. Instead of self-regulation, it suggests adopting fiscal measures that encourage the purchase of healthier and more regular products advertising pressure on minors. "We must reorient consumption towards unprocessed products," he summarizes.
Health framed the agreement, announced in 2017, in a strategy launched in 2005 to promote a healthier diet and thus reduce obesity and overweight rates that currently interest 17% and 54% of the Spanish adult population. But it will not do much good if a 450 gram chocolate palm reduces its amount of sugar by 10%, if it already contains five times the recommended daily dose (25 grams) by the WHO. "Taken into practice, it means reducing a gram or two in relative terms the amount of fat, sugar or salt in a product", quantifies Alba Santaliestra, president of the Nutritional Association of Dieticians-Nutritionists of Aragon, who considers that the efforts of the Administration should go in another direction.
"No more beverages will be sold zero by the agreement, but because the market demands it, "reflects Antonio Rodríguez, promoter of the Sinazucar.org project, a series of photographs of foods accompanied by the amount of free sugar they contain in clods. "It's not a battle against the industry, but a campaign for the consumer to know what they eat," explains this Madrid-born photographer. he just collected his images in a book.
The Organization of Consumers and Users regretted that the agreement only affects a series of references and not all the products of the manufacturers involved. For example, in the category of soft drinks only those of lemon lime are included, and in the category of cereals only those that contain chocolate. Francisco Botella, spokesman for the Spanish Society of Endocrinology and Nutrition, says that the "agreement is a step forward, although small": "It does not stop being processed products. The less, the better. "
Felicitas González, coordinator of the Nutritional Innovation Center of the Dulcesol Group, agrees that the agreement "is part of the constant concern for what the consumer demands". The producer of bulk buns started in 2010 to eliminate trans fats from their products and is now focused on reducing sugar and replacing palm oil with sunflower oil. "These objectives can be a grain of sand for the reduction of the problem, but it will be of little use if we do not change our sedentary lifestyle we abandon the Mediterranean diet", Concludes González.