You’ll find the claims plastered left, right and centre on products in almost every aisle of the supermarket – but don’t let them fool you. That “natural”, “low fat”, “whole grain”, “no refined sugar” snack bar probably ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Join today and get instant access to all test results and research.
Food marketers use these claims to convince us their products are better choices than they really are. Our annual Bad Taste Food Awards call out manufacturers we think are pushing the boundaries. Thank you to everyone who sent in nominations.
From just looking at the box, you’d be forgiven for thinking Nestle Nesquik cereal is a perfect start to your kid’s day.
The pack touts the cereal’s zinc, calcium, niacin and iron content “to help kids’ normal growth and development”. The cereal’s “made with whole grain wheat and corn”, is “a source of fibre” and contains “no artificial colours or flavours”.
As a bonus, there’s even a craft activity on the back of the box to keep the kids occupied.
However, Nesquik is 30% sugar, though you won’t find that on the front of the box. That’s more than three teaspoons of sugar in a 50g serving. As for the vitamins and minerals, the cereal can only brag about them because they’ve been added during the manufacturing process.
Nature Valley Crunchy Oats & Honey snack bars are “packed with natural whole grain oats and real honey”, making them “the perfect on-the-go snack”. There are “no colours or preservatives”, the bars are “lactose free”, an “excellent source of whole grain” and a “source of dietary fibre”.
What’s not to like? In every serving, you’ll get nearly 12g of sugar. That’s three teaspoons – or half the six teaspoons a day the World Health Organization reckons we should limit our intake to for better health.
Sugar is the second largest ingredient in these bars. Honey also adds to the sweetness. We agree with the consumer who nominated these bars – they’re definitely “not a good lunchbox treat”.
From the super-sized fruit pictured on the six-pack of Fresh ‘n Fruity Berries Galore, you might assume you’re getting a yoghurt with, well, berries galore. But in four of the six yoghurt pots, sugar is the second largest ingredient, after milk.
The “berry combo” pots contain just 3.5% berries, while the “berries and cherries” pots have 3.5% of just the one berry (raspberry) and only 1% cherry. Only the “simply strawberry” pots have more – 9%.
The yoghurt carries a “low-fat” claim and four-star health rating. Despite that, each pottle contains between three and four teaspoons of sugar. Some is from sugars naturally present in the milk and fruit. But with added sugar near the top of the ingredients list, you’re getting an extra helping of sweetness.
Baby Mum-Mum First Rice Rusks boast they’re “all natural”, gluten-, nut-, egg- and dairy-free, with “no artificial colours or flavours” and “no added salt”. They also contain kale, spinach, carrot and cabbage, sporting a picture of said vege in prime position on the front of the pack.
However, the ingredient list reveals these “wholesome, nutritious” rice rusks only contain a light sprinkling of vege. The total vegetable content of the snack is a miserly 1.36%.
So what makes up the rest of the rusks? They’re 98.64% rice flour, potato starch and pear juice.
Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain cereal received the most nominations in our 2016 Bad Taste Food Awards. The company is providing more fodder for our awards this year.
Kellogg’s claims its Nutri-Grain TO GO Protein Squeezer is “perfect for young New Zealanders on the go” and will help them feel fuller for longer. The protein squeezers come in several flavours: Choc Malt Slam, Mocha Hit, Nutri-Grain and Banana & Honey Smash.
But these protein squeezers are far from “perfect” for youngsters. The Banana & Honey Smash contains 14.7g of sugar per serve. That’s nearly four teaspoons. Banana puree contributes some of the sweetness but sugar is the third largest ingredient in the squeezer.
As for the protein? The majority of Kiwis already get ample amounts of it in their diet. You’re better off flagging this sweet squeezer and throwing a banana in the kids’ lunchbox instead.
Tegel chicken products proudly boast their “cage free” status. Ingham chicken and some Pams chicken products make the same claim.
Many of us care about the conditions in which chickens are raised so these claims are re-assuring, right? Wrong! Chickens raised for meat aren’t kept in cages. Layer hens – egg-producing hens – can be caged but the same doesn’t apply to chickens raised for food. Cage free doesn’t mean free-range: the chooks don’t leave the shed.
We agree with the consumer who nominated these products: the claims risk misleading shoppers about what they’re buying as they imply the products are more ethical than others.
Enough of the gobbledygook!
After some “liquid energy” to give you a lift? Coca Cola’s E2 – a “fruit flavoured refreshing drink offered in sipper bottles” – promises just that.
This fruit-flavoured drink is “combined with vitamins and minerals to give consumers a delicious fruity blast”. But chug back a 800ml bottle of the liquid energy and you’ll be gulping down a whopping 78g of sugar – that’s nearly 20 teaspoons of the stuff.
As for the fruit content, E2 Blackcurrant & Apple contains 2.8% blackcurrant juice from concentrate and 2.2% apple juice from concentrate.
Coca-Cola labels the drink as a “supplemented food”, a term that can be used where foods have been modified to provide some benefit beyond meeting basic nutrition needs. Gotta be honest, we struggle to see any benefit in slamming down 20 teaspoons of sugar.
Simply Squeezed Super Juice Warrior claims it’s a “good source of vitamin C for immune system support”, contains no added colours or flavours and can be consumed hot or cold.
One serve of the juice will give you a 50mg hit of vitamin C. That may sound impressive until you discover you’d get a bigger serving from eating an orange.
One orange will deliver about 70mg of vitamin C plus it has the benefits of extra fibre. Moreover, you won’t get the sugar hit that comes with Simply Squeezed Super Juice Warrior.
A 250ml glass of the fruit juice has an impressive 29.2g of sugar – that’s seven teaspoons – more than double what you’d get from eating an orange. Hard to find much that’s super about this juice.
Bliss balls and energy balls have become the latest “health snack” filling supermarket shelves. But some of these products take the cake for hype.
There’s no shortage of claims on the pack of a Bounce Cacao Mint Protein Energy Ball: “nutritious”, “tasty”, “balanced”, “good energy all round”, “gluten free”, “protein 24%” and “a wholefood blend of organic cacao, mint and seeds”.
The pack also declares the balls contain “no refined sugar”. However, rice syrup and grape juice have been added to provide the sweetness. Rice syrup is the third biggest ingredient.
Each 42g ball is 22.8% sugar. That’s 2.4 teaspoons of the stuff in every ball.
We’re the only New Zealand non-profit to independently put the products and services you want to buy to the test. But most of what we do is funded by our members, for our members. Becoming a member means you’ll have even more ways to get a fair deal, and choose with confidence.