Food Faith or Food Fact? The Emergence of Regulation on Processed Food

December 2019

Recent studies suggest a link between the consumption of ultra-processed food and non-communicable diseases. While media coverage is increasing consumer awareness, the topic remains highly controversial and raises criticism from the food industry. This report draws a picture of how energy purchase by NOVA classification differs across countries and regions, and provides an outlook on the potential challenges for the industry if NOVA becomes a bigger talking point among consumers.

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Key findings

Ultra-processed food increasingly in the line of fire

Recent studies link the consumption of ultra-processed food with non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, that are chronic in nature and result from genetic, physiological, environmental and behavioural factors. The NOVA concept constitutes a big change compared to the focus on a single macro-nutrient, such as sugar or fat. If ultra-processed food becomes a big talking point for consumers, this could present the packaged food and beverages industry with a huge challenge in the future.

Regulative measures continue to tighten, while food labelling is on the rise

High obesity rates among adults and children are driving governments around the world to take action. The discussion on ultra-processed food adds further fuel to the fire. Sugar taxes are gaining ground and front-of-pack labels are being introduced in order to help consumers make healthier food/drink choices. Consumers, meanwhile, are showing increasing interest in nutrition information.

Ultra-processed food accounts for largest part of energy purchase in developed countries

Ultra-processed food accounts for the majority of energy purchased in developed countries. With consumers being increasingly time-pressed and in search of convenient food, the UK, the US and Japan take the lead on this front. In emerging markets, energy purchased from unprocessed food has seen the fastest growth in recent years, due to consumers trading up to meat.

Opportunities for less processed but convenient offers in the future

Despite existing food facts, it often comes down to food faith in the end. Less processed and more natural product offers have good growth prospects, especially if they meet the demand for convenience. The clean label trend is expected to gain further traction. An area to watch will be the booming area of plant-based food, which is currently often highly processed and thus in contrast with the movement towards more natural and less processed food.



Key findings

Nova: A Brazilian Case Study

Nova: A Brazilian Case Study
Guidelines promote whole foods and discourage ultra-processed foods
NOVA classification distinguishes by level of food processing
Industries and associations claim NOVA neglects benefits of processing
Brazil scores low on energy purchase from ultra-processed food
Brazil has highest energy purchase from unprocessed food in LATAM
Discussion around NOVA led to a combined effort on reformulation
Leading players adopt strategies towards more natural portfolios in Brazil
What if NOVA moves beyond Brazil and turns into a bigger talking point?

Core Drivers of a Modern Diet

Changing lifestyles drive consumption of ultra-processed food
Time-constraints and convenience are obstacles to a healthier diet
A rise in urbanisation makes ultra-processed food more accessible
Out-of-home fast food adds to ultra-processed food consumption
Alarming obesity rates put ultra-processed food under fire
Consumer perceptions contrast with obesity rates
Weight loss objectives encourage consumers to avoid processed food
New studies associate ultra-processed food with health risks

The Regulatory Landscape in Food

Initiatives on food regulation with potential to change circumstances
Taxation of high sugar products gains ground
Front-of-pack traffic light labels provide support for healthier choices
Positive labels aim to stimulate healthy reformulations
Focus on nutrition information rises to accommodate dietary preferences
Clean label gains traction as consumers seek simplification

Food Faith vs Facts in a Regional Comparison

Big gap in ultra-processed food for emerging versus developed countries
Emerging markets still have a strong focus on unprocessed food
US market shows opposing trends
Convenience and health drive ultra-processed food in Japan
Awareness of ultra-processed food rises in Western Europe
Asia Pacific is trading up within unprocessed/minimally processed food

Prophecies on Processed Food

Governments expected to tighten regulations in the future
Young generations show lack of interest in cooking from scratch
Opportunities for less processed, but convenient offers
NOVA may limit reformulation efforts
Will plant-based alternatives find a way to be more natural in the future?
Latest technology developments facilitate consumer’s food choices
Retailers expected to increase focus on fresh produce
Key takeaways


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