Not so sweet: ‘Surprising’ sugar spike in UK breakfast cereals, mostly in own label

By Kacey CULLINEY contact

- Last updated on GMT

Tesco Special Flakes saw the biggest sugar rise since 2012 - up 35.8% to 16.3 g of sugar per 100 g serving
Tesco Special Flakes saw the biggest sugar rise since 2012 - up 35.8% to 16.3 g of sugar per 100 g serving
Sugar content has risen in a fifth of UK ready-to-eat breakfast cereals since 2012 with the largest spikes coming from retail own brands, finds Action on Sugar research.

The public health lobby group looked at the listed sugar and salt content of 50 RTE UK breakfast cereals – the same products Which? investigated in 2012 – to make nutritional comparisons. Brands included Kellogg, Nestlé, Weetabix and Quaker and as well as private label products by Tesco, Aldi, Asda and Sainsbury’s, among others.

Findings showed that 10 out of the 50 cereals contained more sugar than in 2012 and 18 contained the same levels of sugar. Of the 10 products containing more sugar, seven were private label.

The biggest sugar increase was found in Tesco’s Special Flakes – up 35.8% to 16.3 g of sugar per 100 g serving. This was closely followed by Aldi’s Harvest Morn Benefit Original – up 25% to 15 g/100 g. Aldi’s Harvest Morn Choco Rice also saw a sugar rise of 18% to 39 g/100 g and was ranked as the most sugary breakfast cereal out of the 50 investigated.

British Retail Consortium disputes findings

The British Retail Consortium (BRC), whose members include Aldi, Tesco and Sainsbury's, among others, has defended retailer actions. 

In a statement sent to BakeryandSnacks.com, it said: "Sugar has not been deliberately added to breakfast cereals. A change in suppliers, changes in the cereals manufacturing process and recalculation of the nutrition information have resulted in small changes in the sugar figures. For certain products, the increase in the total sugar content relates to an increase in the quantity of dried fruit used. European legislation requires a total sugar declaration on pack, which makes no distinction between added and naturally occurring sugars."

Action on Sugar did include information on products with increased sugar due to dried fruit content. Of the 50 cereals investigated, there were only two cereals that had more sugar because of fruit content and both were branded products: Alpen Original Muesli and Dorset Cereals Simply Delicious Muesli.

However, the BRC said its members had long been dedicated to calorie reduction and clear labeling of nutritional content.

"Supermarkets are still working hard to find new ways to reduce calories and sugar, taking millions of tons of sugar out of ordinary everyday food increases ranges of healthy choice food. Retailers have responded to an increasing interest in healthy eating among customers and have sought to provide parents with the product choice and information they need to enable themselves and their children to have a healthy diet. There are a number of individual company initiatives and policies on nutrition,"​ it said.

Beyond private label products, there were three branded products with sugar increases in the 50 investigated: Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Honey & Nut Clusters (up 4%), Weetabix Wheetos Chocolatey  (up 2.1%) and Dorset Cereals Simply Delicious Muesli (up 1.2%).

'Deliberate deception'

Sonia Pombo, nutritionist for Action on Sugar, said the findings were disappointing. 

Aldi's Harvest Morn Choco Rice contains the most sugar at 39 g per 100 g serving
Aldi's Harvest Morn Choco Rice contains the most sugar at 39 g per 100 g serving

“Despite calls in 2012 to improve the nutritional content of our breakfast cereals, manufacturers and retailers appear to have done very little. It’s clear that manufacturers are deliberately trying to deceive us by putting more sugar in our food, with one in five products surveyed actually increasing in sugars. It’s time they listen to our concerns and reduce sugar in their products now, particularly those targeted towards children,”​ she told this site.

“Manufacturers and retailers are doing no favors to their customers by adding so much sugar to their cereals. Recent figures suggest obesity levels rise as socio-economic status falls, we therefore call on retailers to do more for their customers and reduce the unnecessary levels of sugar and salt in their cereals.”

Pombo called on cereal makers to seriously consider front-of-pack traffic light labeling as a means of better indicating the nutritional content to consumers. 

Action on Sugar: Top 5 most sugary UK cereals

Breakfast Cereal

2012 Sugars (g) per 100g

2015 Sugars (g) per 100g

2015 Sugars (tsp) per 100g

Sugars difference (%)

2015 Sugars (g) per 30g serving

2015 Sugars (tsp) per 30g serving

(Aldi) Harvest Morn Choco Rice

33

39

10

+18

12

3

Kellogg's Frosties

37

37

9

0

11

3

Morrisons Honey & Nut Corn Flakes

33.6

36.3

9

+8

10.9

3

Sainsbury's Honey Nut Corn Flakes

33.6

36.3

9

+8

10.9

3

Kellogg's Crunchy Nut

35

35

9

0

11

3

Private label woes: ‘It’s really surprising’

Private label accounted for 21% of the UK breakfast cereal market in 2014, generating £290m ($441m) in sales and gaining 1.8% market share on the previous year, according to Mintel.

David Jago, director of innovation and insight at Mintel, said the findings on the sugar content of a number of private label cereals were a shock, particularly as retail brands continued to gain traction in the UK market.

“It’s really surprising - I can’t think why you would up the sugar content that much… To have exactly the same product reformulated to contain more sugar makes no sense at all and I can’t think why they’d do it,”​ he said.

Sainsbury's along with Morrisons are normally 'pretty smart' on health, says David Jago from Mintel
Sainsbury's along with Morrisons are normally 'pretty smart' on health, says David Jago from Mintel

He said it was particularly surprising to see increased sugar content in cereals from Morrisons and Sainsbury’s. Both Morrison’s Honey & Nut Corn Flakes and Sainsbury’s Honey Nut Corn Flakes saw an 8% rise in sugar content up to 36.3 g per 100 g.

Jago said such increases were unexpected because both retailers had a reputation for being “pretty smart”​ on health, in terms of nutrition labeling and healthier product development.

Morrisons since got back in touch with Action on Sugar stating there was no explanation for the increased sugar content in its honey nut corn flake cereal but said from next month the brand would contain 8% less sugar. 

Sugar standstill strongest among brands…

Despite 10 out of 50 cereals showing a rise in sugar, there was a standstill status in 18 products where no sugar reduction had happened since 2012. Of these 18 cereals, 10 were branded and six were Kellogg products, including Special K, Crunchy Nut and Coco Pops.

Pombo said the lack of movement from Kellogg was a huge shame given their market share in the UK.

“The breakfast cereal market is still dominated by the big brands such as Kellogg’s, so it’s disappointing to see very little sugar reductions in their cereals as it would have such a huge impact,”​ she said.

Mintel data shows Kellogg held a 39% share of the UK breakfast cereal market in 2014, generating sales of £533m ($810.6m). 

Special K was among a number of Kellogg brands that had not reduced sugar since 2012
Special K was among a number of Kellogg brands that had not reduced sugar since 2012

Kellogg did not respond to questions on its lack of sugar reduction ahead of publication.

Reductions are happening

Just under half (21) cereals surveyed had reduced sugar compared to 2012, 17 of which were private label brands that had reduced sugar by between 0.9% and 35.7%. The latter, and largest, reduction came from Simply M&S Cornflakes.

Action on Sugar said there was no reason why more manufacturers couldn’t act on sugar reduction when there were nearly identical cereals on the market with considerably less sugar. For example, Kellogg’s Special K cereal contained 36% more sugar (17 g/100 g) than Lidl’s Crownfield Special Flakes Rice & Wheat (10.9 g /100 g).

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1 comment

About time...

Posted by Haggis,

Sugar: If you don't like it, don't buy the products. Leave the manufacturers alone and let a free market exist. Responsible parents shouldn't feed it to their kids, if they believe sugar is harmful. Otherwise, go after real threats like alcohol and nicotine.

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