Cereal giants to ‘review’ UK nutrition labeling scheme, expert says they will never sign

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Will any cereal majors adopt the DoH voluntary labeling scheme?
Will any cereal majors adopt the DoH voluntary labeling scheme?

Related tags Sugar Breakfast cereal

Cereal majors Kellogg and Cereal Partners Worldwide (CPW) are reviewing the UK Department of Health’s (DoH) front-of-pack voluntary labeling scheme, but one nutrition policy expert says they will never sign.

The DoH unveiled its new traffic light labeling system today, but so far no cereal major has signed.

Speaking to BakeryandSnacks.com this morning Nestlé and General Mills (as part of their joint venture CPW) along with Kellogg said they are reviewing details of the scheme before making a decision.

CPW told this site it is “committed to communicating nutrition information” ​and “supports the principle of clear and transparent consumer communication” ​but has not yet made a decision.

Kellogg said it needs to review details “and the likely impact on our shoppers”.

Nestlé, General Mills and Kellogg all noted that they use and support the most commonly used European front-of-pack GDA labeling system. However, Nestlé spokeswoman Sally Pain said: "We hope that all Nestlé branded products in the UK will apply the system in the future."

Weetabix is also reviewing the options carefully but said a decision "will be led by the wishes of our consumers”.

‘Why the hell would they sign up?’ 

Reformulating kids' cereals in particular is extremely demanding, says Winkler
Reformulating kids' cereals in particular is extremely demanding, says Winkler

UK nutrition policy expert Professor Jack Winkler said it’s far from surprising that the cereal majors haven’t signed and that it is unlikely they ever will.

“My thought is that they’ll play out of the system. Manufacturers of breakfast cereals, no matter what they do, will come out red,”​ Winkler told this site.

There are two goals to traffic light labeling, he said. Firstly, to make it easier for consumers to make healthier choices and secondly, to stimulate manufacturers into reformulating their products.

He said the problem with the traffic light system is that there are only three categories – so it doesn’t provide that stimulus to reformulate because it’s very hard to move between green, amber and red without developing an entirely new product.

“The business of reformulating children’s breakfast cereals in particular is just too demanding. Why the hell would they sign up?”​ Winkler said.

Kellogg and CPW manufacture a lot of intentionally sugared cereals like Frosties, Sugar Puffs and Honey Nut Loops so children will eat them, he said.

“It is fair to say, and give credit where it’s due, that they are genuinely trying to reduce the sugar content of their products. But they’re never going to meet anyone’s green. They’re going to come out bad, no matter how you look at it,”​ he said.

Start-up ‘surprised’ on lack of signatures

“I’m surprised more companies haven’t signed up,”​ said Richard Paterson, joint managing director of start-up UK cereal firm Freedom Cereals Ltd.

Freedom Cereal’s new ‘Keep Me Going’ product made with wholegrain barley and oats will adopt the DoH labeling when it’s rolled out in health stores nationwide in the UK next week.

Its label will be green for fat, saturates and salt and amber for sugar. “When we first designed our product, we wanted three green lights, but if you don’t have sugar on the outside of the product, it goes soggy with milk. Technically we needed the sugar and from a flavor point of view, people just preferred it,”​ he said.

Sugar content in leading UK cereals is high, claims start-up
Sugar content in leading UK cereals is high, claims start-up

Paterson’s theory on why the big cereal companies haven’t yet signed up to the scheme is that a large selection of their products would carry red labels, particularly for salt and sugar. 

However, he also flagged a concern that if they do sign, some sugared cereals would only be amber given the DoH’s increase of the sugar threshold to 22.5g per 100g – up from the 15g in the previous Food Standards Agency guidelines.

Winkler said Freedom Cereals Ltd could benefit from the fact that Kellogg and CPW haven’t signed. “The start-up cereal firm will look more virtuous. Some consumers will take the front-of-pack label as a sign of goodness,”​ he said.

For full details of the DoH’s new hybrid labeling scheme, click HERE​.

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