Action on Sugar calls cereal manufacturers deceptive

14 Aug 2017

Action on Sugar is calling for colour-coded ‘traffic light’ front of pack nutrition labelling to be introduced after exposing perceived ‘healthy’ cereal brands who have failed to include recognised colour-coded labelling.

Action on Sugar calls cereal manufacturers deceptive

UK sugar and health group Action on Sugar, based at Queen Mary University of London, is calling for colour-coded ‘traffic light’ front of pack (FOP) nutrition labelling to be introduced across all food and drink products after exposing many perceived ‘healthy’ cereal brands who have failed to include the Department of Health endorsed colour-coded labelling – despite some products containing high levels of sugar which would equate to a red label.

Twenty five breakfast cereal manufacturers were surveyed, which showed that whilst Bear, Jordans, Kellogg’s and Nestle do use FOP labelling, they do not use Department of Health’s recommended colour-coding, making it very difficult for consumers to interpret the information and make informed decisions. A further six brands, including Eat Natural, Lizi's, Nature's Path, Paleo Foods Co., Rude Health and Dorset Cereals, contain no front of pack nutrition labelling and some products contain high levels of sugar.

The extent of what Action on Sugar calls a ‘deception’ has been revealed by the FoodSwitch UK app, which provides colour-coded nutrition information for packaged food and drinks, even if there is no colour coding on the pack itself, so that users can see whether a product is high (red), medium (amber) or low (green) in total fat, saturates, sugars and salt. It also provides a list of similar, healthier alternatives and includes a new filter, SugarSwitch, which enables users to search specifically for healthier alternatives that are lower in sugar.

The group claims breakfast cereal shoppers could save themselves 45 teaspoons of sugar per month (182g) if they had access to consistent FOP labelling allowing them to make informed decisions and switch to a lower sugar cereal.

For example, by using the colour-coded FOP labelling to switch from a bowl of Kellogg's Crunchy Nut Honey and Nut Clusters (12g sugar per 45g serving) to a lower sugar option, such as Tesco Flakes And Clusters Cereal (6g sugar per 40g serving) every day, consumers would reduce their sugar intake by 6g/day if the serving size recommendation was followed, or a staggering 182g/month, the group believes.

Some granola cereals have no FOP labelling at all, for example, Nature’s Path Pumpkin Granola contains 8g of sugar per serving (2 tsp/ red traffic light), followed by Dorset Cereals Simply Oat Granola 7.9g per serving (2 tsp/ amber traffic light). That’s almost a third of an adult’s daily recommended sugar intake. However, some products actually have low levels of sugar, such as Lizi’s Low Sugar Granola (1.9g of sugar per serving/ green traffic light), and should, the group says, proudly display their labels on the FOP.

Whilst it is encouraging, Action on Sugar goes on, that some branded companies use the government recommended colour-coded FOP labelling including: Alpen, Honey Monster, Mornflake, Quaker Oats, Scott's and Weetabix, there are at least three different label variations used by manufacturers on their products for consumers to understand and navigate – leading to further confusion and making it difficult to compare products. In comparison, all of the nine top supermarkets have colour-coded front of pack labelling on their own-label breakfast cereals across their economy, standard and premium ranges.

The majority of the sugars in these products is derived from ‘free sugars’, despite the Reference Intake referring to ‘total sugars’, the group notes. Free sugars includes sugars that are added to food, as well as sugars that are naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit concentrates, not sugars in milk products and whole fruit & vegetables.