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Sugar report reignites GDA and traffic light debate

By Jane Byrne , 17-Feb-2012

UK consumer advocates Which?, evaluating sugar levels in breakfast cereals, claim manufacturers need to better inform busy parents and other consumers about the ingredients in their cereals, claiming that traffic light labelling is the most blatant way of doing so.

But Kellogg argues that labelling information based on Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA) is sufficient, with a spokesperson adding that the cereal giant’s cereal portfolio approach is based on offering the consumer “a real choice”.

The consumer orientated watchdog released a report yesterday comparing the nutritional content of leading breakfast cereals per sales in the UK market and private label equivalents, flagging up the fact that 32 out of 50 were high in sugar.

“We have compared cereals based on the nutritional value per 100g. This enables us to compare them across the board even if manufacturers recommend different portion sizes. Cereals aimed at children were particularly disappointing, with high levels of sugar found in 12 out of 14,” said Which?

The group found Kellogg’s Frosties, was the “worst offender” with 37% sugar. Private label chocolate rice cereal from several supermarkets came a close second, followed by Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, Kellogg’s Coco Pops and Sugar Puffs.

“Cereals marketed as “healthy”, such as Kellogg’s All-Bran Bran Flakes and Special K, were also high in sugar,” notes the study.

Consumer choice

Paul Wheeler, a spokesperson for Kellogg, told FoodNavigator.com that the manufacturer takes issues with these “kind of reports in the fact that they focus on the sugar content in children’s cereals and rarely on the element of consumer choice involved in purchasing decisions.”

And he stressed that Kellogg data shows that it is mainly adult men - 25+ - who buy Frosties. "Adult sales of Frosties are the highest and account for 66% of purchasers," said Wheeler.

“We are interested in offering parents a choice in relation to managing sugar levels in their children’s diets. We released Kellogg Mini Max - a brand with a nutritional profile that allows it to be advertised to children - at the end of last year to widen our offering to parents,” continued the Kellogg representative.

On the amount of sugar in the Special K brand, Wheeler claims "even a large portion of Special K (and we’re talking 60g) has only two teaspoons of sugar in it – that’s less than a low fat fruit yogurt, banana or blueberry muffin. The fact is breakfast cereals aren’t a large source of sugar in peoples’ diets and they only account for 3.5pc of all the sugar purchased in the nation’s shopping basket each year."

He said that every pack of Kellogg’s’ cereals carries GDA labelling "to help shoppers see exactly how many calories and how much salt, fat and sugar is in the products per 30g serving."

“If labels are to help shoppers make informed choices they need to be based on what people actually eat. GDAs are based on 30g portions - not 100g as with traffic lights - and this is typically what a child eats in a serving of cereal,” added Wheeler.

Label wars

The merits of the GDA approach versus the traffic light system has long been debated in both regulatory and industry circles.

In July 2011, the House of Lords in the UK voiced its support for the implementation of a traffic light labelling on food and drink products, and urged stronger government policies to change consumer behaviour.

Which? says it takes the view that the evidence to support consumer comprehension of traffic light system for nutritional labelling is there, with the "colour coding making it easy to see exactly what you are buying.”

Sue Davies, chief policy officer at the watchdog, when talking to this publication last year, said: "While food manufacturers, in the main are not, half of the retailers in the UK are using traffic light labelling including Sainsbury’s and Asda. And our research along with independent studies testing the various food information labelling schemes indicate that consumers across the board - and not just the better educated ones - find the traffic light approach the easiest to understand."

 

Salt targets met

On a positive note for industry reformulation efforts’ the consumer group’s study did find that manufacturers have taken steps to reduce salt in breakfast cereals.

"Just eight of the 50 breakfast cereals Which? analysed were not meeting the 2012 target of a maximum of 1.1g salt per 100g breakfast cereal - Asda, Lidl, Kellogg’s, Marks and Spencer and Tesco Cornflakes, Nestlé Cheerios and Kellogg’s Special K and Rice Krispies. “

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