Pretty packs don’t mean healthy snacks

3 minute read

Surely food companies should make it much clearer what is actually in their products, says Dr Kerri Parnell


Last week the consumer advocacy group, Choice, released a report into what’s really in snack bars. Marketed as a healthy choice, snack bars generally come in packaging that depicts luscious fruits lying alongside nutritious grains and nuts.

After reviewing the contents of 224 bars, Choice found despite the pretty pictures on the outside, many products contained minimal fruit, and failed to disclose added sugars. The lay media lapped up the story, giving it plenty of column inches, but I have to say I’m surprised that anyone is surprised.

For my part, I feel like I’ve read the same thing about so-called healthy products containing hidden fats and sugars for years.

And companies obviously aren’t surprised; they know precisely what goes into their products, but will get away with what they can in the marketing department to boost sales.

When faced with claims they were misleading customers by depicting real fruit on their packaging, the companies’ reactions were varied.

Kellogg’s removed confusion among its customers by lowering expectations and removing pictures of fruit on the wrapper.

A spokesperson said the company had just rolled out new packaging that showed minimal fruit. “Our new packaging clearly says the product is raspberry and apple flavour. We are not suggesting they are a replacement for fruit. Any images of fruit are to show the flavour you can expect,” she said.

With 63% of adult Australians being overweight or obese, as are 27% of children, it might have been nice if the company had actually reformulated the product to make it healthier, but you’ve got to give them points for honesty.

Aldi took another tack, saying its bar, which contains “strawberry-flavoured fruit pieces”, fruit puree concentrates, flavour and a range of additives, had a place in a healthy diet if it was only eaten occasionally.

Given that you could say that about almost anything, including cardboard, it’s not much of a claim.

The Choice review comes as action against Heinz is being taken in the Federal Court by the ACCC, which alleges the company has flouted the law with its packaging of Little Kids Shredz, which contain 99% fruit and veg according to the label.

Apart from egregious spelling, Heinz is accused of telling parents the snacks, aimed at one- to three-year olds, are healthy when they’re simply not. An apple, for instance, has a sugar content of 10%, whereas this snack contains over 60% sugar.

Surely this should be made very clear to buyers.

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