Most manufacturers ‘go beyond labelling obligation’

Cereal manufacturers were 'refusing to be transparent' by avoiding colour-coded front of pack nutrition labels, claimed Action on Sugar

Most food manufacturers go beyond their legal obligation to provide clear nutrition labelling, says the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), after claims manufacturers were “deliberately deceiving” shoppers by not using colour-coded labels on cereal packaging.

The FDF said food and drink labelling was tightly regulated at EU level, and companies helped consumers to make informed purchasing decisions with their packaging nutrition labels.

An FDF spokesman said: “Companies have a legal obligation to tell their customers what is in their food, and ingredients lists and nutrition information are both provided on pack. Far from hiding information, the vast majority of companies go beyond this legal obligation to voluntarily provide clear, simple nutrition information front of pack.

‘Quickly check, compare and choose’

“This helps consumers make informed purchasing decisions by enabling individuals to quickly check, compare and choose between similar products, which includes the amount of sugar they contain.”

Its comments came after pressure group Action on Sugar accused food manufacturers of “refusing to be transparent” with front of pack labelling by not using colour-coded labels on cereal packaging.

Four breakfast cereal manufacturers – including Kellogg and Nestlé – used front of pack nutrition labels, but do not use the government’s recommended colour-coded labelling system, Action on Sugar alleged. Six further brands contained no front of pack nutrition labelling, it added.

Breakfast shoppers could cut their annual sugar intake by 2.2kg if they had access to consistent colour-coded front of pack labels, Action on Sugar said. That’s the equivalent to 87 Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bars (45g).

Action on Sugar campaign director Katharine Jenner said: “Shoppers should be seeing red, and they would be if manufacturers used the correct labels! It’s scandalous that certain food manufacturers are still refusing to be transparent when it comes to front of pack nutrition labelling.

‘Assume they are hiding something’

“If there is no front of pack label with one brand, shoppers should assume they are hiding something – so buy another brand instead.”

The investigation used the FoodSwitch UK app, which shows colour-coded nutrition information for packaged food and drink products, even if there isn’t colour-coding on the pack itself.

Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Honey and Nut Clusters – which uses a non-colour-coded front of pack label – contained high (red) amounts of sugar, and medium (amber) amounts of fat, saturates and salt.

A Kellogg spokeswoman said: “Kellogg’s complies with all EU and local labelling requirements, which set out specific rules regarding what information should be included on food labels. We strive to present this information in a way that is both legally compliant, and clear and meaningful for consumers.

“We use Guideline Daily Amount [GDA] labelling because we believe it gives consumers a better source of information than traffic light labels. Traffic light labelling does not take into account portion size or the role that the food plays in the diet.”

Long-term sugar reduction

Kellogg was committed to improving the nation’s diet, it said. Its long-term sugar reduction programme targeted cutting 2,000t of sugar from the UK diet by the end of the year, it added.

Action on Sugar said it was encouraging that some branded companies – including Weetabix – used the government’s recommended colour-coded nutrition labels. But, there were at least three variations of the label itself, which could become confusing for consumers, the pressure group said.

Weetabix head of brand Kevin Verbruggen said: “We want to make it easy for people to make a healthy choice. Weetabix has the easy-to-read traffic lights on all of its cereal packs to help shoppers to make a quick, informed decision.

“As the UK’s number one cereal brand, we have a responsibility to provide best-practice food labelling. Weetabix branded cereals already have less sugar than Public Health England’s guidelines for 2020.”

Meanwhile, in March, Public Health England targeted a 20% reduction in sugar by 2020, to reduce childhood obesity.

What they say about colour-coded front of pack nutrition labelling:
  • “Considering that front of pack traffic light colour-coded labelling has been recommended for years and adopted by many companies, it is frustrating that big and perceived healthier brands continue to refuse to use this form of helpful labelling.”

Kawther Hashem, Action on Sugar

  • “If companies are serious about helping their customers’ make healthier choices with lower salt, sugar and saturated fat, then, like the supermarkets and the more responsible manufacturers, they must consistently use front of pack colour-coded nutrition labelling.”

Sarah Alderton, FoodSwitch UK

  • “Kellogg’s complies with all EU and local labelling requirements, which set out specific rules regarding what information should be included on food labels. We strive to present this information in a way that is both legally compliant and clear and meaningful for consumers.”

Kellogg

  • “We apply the colour-coded labelling on all our wholly-owned products, including confectionery, coffee mixes, food and beverages, which make the vast majority of Nestlé products in the UK. Our joint venture companies, including Cereal Partners UK, were not included in the Nestlé UK announcement to adopt the scheme. The joint venture businesses continue to review their position about the system. We hope that all Nestlé branded products in the UK are able to apply the system in the future.”

Nestlé UK

  • “Weetabix branded cereals already have less sugar than Public Health England’s guidelines for 2020. For example, Weetabix has always been a low sugar cereal.”

Kevin Verbruggen, Weetabix

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