New Government advice that youngsters should be restricted to just two healthy 100 calorie snacks a day is set to cause further confusion among consumers.
Current food labelling legislation requires the amount of fat, sugar, salt and calories per 100 grams to be listed on packaging.
Claims on pack about healthy food relate to information about vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Neither of these show parents what makes up a healthy 100 calorie snack in an easy to understand format, according to Phil Dalton, head of regulatory and legal at international packaging solutions company Sun Branding Solutions.
Phil, who also used to work for Trading Standards, said: “The latest public health message is meant to help in the fight against childhood obesity. According to the NHS, in 1993, 15 per cent of the adult population in the UK was overweight however in 2015, this had risen to 27 per cent. Plus, with more than 1 in 5 reception age children reported as overweight or obese, it’s an issue that will only grow in prominence as highlighted in the recent ‘Buying betterment’ white paper launched by Sun Branding – where the trend for health and wellness is driving sales growth in the food and beauty markets.”
Retailers and producers exist in an environment where customers are increasingly aware of what they want, but are we communicating the information to them in the right manner? Phil agrees this is an issue; “Current labelling of food is at odds with this message and needs to change if information about salt, sugar and calories is to be used effectively by consumers when they are making a purchase in the aisles.
“The campaign wants parents to make healthier choices for their children’s snacks without telling them exactly what to look for on labels. If parents do look for products labelled as ‘healthy’ these probably won’t be the products that help them tackle childhood obesity. There is currently no link at all between labelling a product as ‘healthy’ and the amount of fat, sugar or calories it contains. Also, calories per serving is not required, the legal minimum is to provide this as kcal or kJ per 100g.Research shows that consumers don’t understand current labelling, in particular the inclusion of kJ causes confusion, and now we have this new message which highlights the importance of calories per serving. In many cases the consumer will need to do a calculation based on the 100g values and serving size to see if it meets the 100 calorie criteria.”
Dalton, who used to work in Trading Standards, acknowledged that health labelling of food fell under EU law introduced in 2006, and while Brexit would perhaps provide an opportunity for labelling legislation to be revised he accepted there was little evidence that this would be a priority. Meanwhile perhaps the message on Public Health could include some practical guidance on what to look for on labels.
“As long as this difference exists between labelling food as healthy, and the public health message about what you need to take into account when making a purchase the current approach will probably leave the public more confused,” Phil concluded.