If anyone doubts the need for effective regulation to protect consumers, they should look no further than their supermarket. On the shelves is a plethora of products designed to persuade you they are a healthier choice. "Healthier than what?" you might ask.
Behind the label claims, there may be little to distinguish these products from others on the shelves. Just how is a consumer meant to know the once-humble blueberry has been promoted to a “superfruit” and further what on earth is a “superfruit”?
We've taken a closer look at claims being made about these new “superfoods”, including coconut oil. We conclude (as do the experts) most of the claims don’t stack up. But what is most concerning is the claims about these foods are able to be made at all.
Advertising material on food packaging must comply with the Fair Trading Act and the Food Act. This means companies can’t mislead consumers or create a false impression about the foods they sell. Food labelling rules also mean companies have to be honest about the “characterising ingredients” in a product. But Kellogg’s can still get away with marketing its cereal Just Right with Goji Berries, Cranberries & Sultanas as a “delicious blend of flakes and fruit” when it is just 1.5 percent goji berries.
And then there’s the cereal Vogel’s Café-Style Light Berry with Blackcurrant, which doesn’t appear to have actual blackcurrants in it.
To find out what is in a product you have to refer to the ingredients list, usually on the back of the food packaging in extremely small print. Most packaged food also has to display a nutrition information panel, but they are not easy to read or understand.
Last year the government finally agreed to join Australia in backing a voluntary “health star” rating system – front-of-pack labelling designed to give consumers at-a-glance information about the nutritional value of packaged food. That means consumers will also be able to look behind the marketing hype and see which foods are healthier choices.
Consumers deserve to be able to confidently buy nutritious foods that are “100% marketing-hype free”. If food manufacturers don’t sign up to the health star rating system, the government should bring out the big stick.
Read our food label claims report.
About the author:
Sue Chetwin has been our Chief Executive since April 2007 after more than 25 years in print journalism. She was formerly the Editor of Sunday News, Sunday Star Times and the Herald on Sunday. She says there are strong parallels between consumer advocacy and journalism.
Sue oversees all of Consumer’s operations and is also the public face of the organisation. Sue is a director of the Banking Ombudsman Scheme, an alternate on the Electricity and Gas Complaints Commission and a member of the Electricity Authority Retail Advisory group.