‘Healthy’ cereal bars not so healthy

The UK has higher rates of obesity and overweight people than anywhere in Western Europe except for Iceland and Malta, with 67% of men and 57% of women either overweight or obese*.

This obesity crisis, and sugar associated illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay and cancer, coupled with the high profile anti sugar lobby (and threats of a ‘sugar tax’ from NHS England) presents huge opportunities for manufacturers to develop new products to market under a ‘healthy’ banner. Indeed there has been a tsunami of healthy and functional foods and drinks hitting the market over recent years.

Take cereal bars for example. Mintel estimate that the cereal and snack bar market is worth in excess of £298.5 million so there is plenty of incentive to create a ‘healthy’ cereal bar as a snack or easy alternative to breakfast cereal.

But just how healthy are they really?

Check the ingredients of those cereal and nut bars that consumers might believe to be ‘healthy’ and you’ll find that some contain frightening amounts of sugar – far more than a chocolate bar in some cases.

Among the popular brands the worst offenders contain the equivalent of up to 5 teaspoons of sugar, while many contain at least three**. As a comparison, a two-finger Kit Kat bar contains around 2.5 teaspoons.

Many bars are also high in fat and saturated fat with some bars containing up to a third fat.

So while consumers would do well to scrutinise labelling closely, why don’t manufactures simply create more genuinely healthy products?

Well it’s tricky. Many manufacturers, particularly the large ones, may lack the will or ability to dedicate the time and investment required to innovate products like these, that fulfil genuinely healthy criteria.

Furthermore, it’s one thing to claim to offer a healthy product but you have
to get people to like it, buy it and keep buying it, and there lies the challenge. Sugar and fat make food taste nicer; some people believe that anything that is healthy or ‘good for you’ must automatically be lacking in taste. So, in order to gain the largest possible market share, some manufactures sacrifice the health credentials of their cereal bars on the altar of flavour and a good mouth feel.

So when it comes to so-called healthy cereal bars it looks like a case of ‘buyer beware’ – until now.

After a good deal of time, trial and error and investment, my company has finally launched what is the first all green traffic light cereal bar on the UK market. We have worked for years to refine our production techniques and unique recipes; our objective was to produce a product that not only meets all the green traffic light criteria, but also tastes good and provides a really satisfying eating experience. We use sucralose for sweetness and we add Konjac, a natural root extract, to all our products. Konjac is low in calories and high in fibre, and swells in the stomach when taken with water so as to keep you feeling fuller for longer. In addition, the Konjac provides a pleasant chewy quality to the bar and adds approximately one quarter of the recommended daily allowance of fibre.

Our experience in the development of the cereal bar has been put to good use in creating a range of new products, including porridge and noodles, which will also meet the ‘all green traffic light’ criteria.

As a former chef, and an Italian too, food and great flavour go hand in hand for me. The secret to producing commercially successful, but genuinely healthy products is to offer foods that first and foremost people want to eat because they enjoy them, with the added bonus that they are healthy, and keep them feeling fuller for longer.

Franco Beer is Managing Director of Slim-Be Ltd

* The Lancet
** One level teaspoon equates to approximately 4 grams of sugar

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