International food giant, Nestlé, announced last week that it has developed a ground-breaking new method of restructuring sugar which will allow it to reduce the sugar content of its confectionery products by up to 40%. The method is said to effectively hollow out the sugar crystals so that the same amount of sugar dissolves in your mouth but less goes to your stomach. In this way, the consumer perceives the same level of sweetness even though the total amount of sugar is significantly reduced. The exact details of the method are still unknown, as Nestlé is pursuing patent protection for the invention. Nestlé plans to start using the new sugar in its confectionery products from 2018.
In recent years, confectionery companies have come under increasing pressure from governments and health bodies such as the WHO to reduce sugar levels in confectionery products. Nestlé has previously admitted that it is very difficult to reduce sugar both from a technological point of view and a consumer point of view, since consumers expect the same sweet taste to be retained. One of the only ways for Nestlé and its competitors to cut down on sugar has therefore been to simply reduce the size of their confectionery products, thereby decreasing the amount of sugar per portion. This has been met with a certain level of public dismay, especially where prices have been retained following shrinkage of the products (so called ‘shrinkflation’). Consumers will therefore no doubt be relieved at the announcement from Nestlé.
The news of Nestlé’s announcement has been widely reported in the general press and while it is good to see that patents get a mention in the majority of the news reports, it is unfortunately common to find misleading comments about the effect of patents. For example, many reports have included the same quotation from a person within the sugar industry who refers to a patent as a ‘double-edged sword’ in that it can protect what you have done, but it also tells your business rivals about it.
This may of course be true from the point of view of Nestlé, but for the target audience of the news reports, i.e. the general public, there would in fact seem to be very little downside to Nestlé’s new invention and patent. Consumers will eventually benefit from the ‘healthier’ confectionery products arising from the invention, which likely would not have been made at all had Nestle not been able to seek protection for its innovation through patents. And if Nestlé’s patent does indeed spur its rivals to make similar advances in sugar technology, this should also provide benefits to the consumer in the form of increased choice and potentially more competitive pricing.
This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking any action in reliance on it.