The French branch of consumer protection group Foodwatch said the brand – owned by Triballat Noyal – had not been honest with consumers when it used a non-organic aroma (flavour) in its organic red fruit yoghurt. It also criticised images of fruit on pack that it said suggested the product contained real fruit pieces when it did not.
The aroma made up 1.1% of the final product and was in line with European legislation which does not see aromas as an agricultural ingredient, and therefore something that could come under organic law. It allows a 5% margin for non-organic ingredients within organic products.
A spokesperson for the European Commission told us: “According to Art 2 (4) of regulation 834/2007, processed products can be labelled organic (and not 100 % organic) if at least 95% of their ingredients of agricultural origin are organic.”
Olivier Clanchin, president of Triballat Noyal, told FoodNavigator this regulatory leeway was in place because regulators understood that it was near impossible to get top quality organic ingredients like fermenters and aromas. He said back in 2008 when the regulation was rewritten these aromas were not available, but as the organic market had developed so had the selection of these ingredients.
‘Step by step’
The consumer group collected 33,400 signatures for its campaign and hailed it as a success after Vrai announced plans to swap its non-organic flavoured red fruit yoghurt for a 100% organic raspberry version using an organic aroma early this year. All of the company’s other yoghurts already used organic aromas.
Yet Clanchin said this change was not the result of the petition but its “step by step” approach to improving its range and its supply of organic ingredients. He said the communication of this issue by Foodwatch had been both unfair and unhelpful, suggesting the group, which recently opened in France, was trying to make a name for itself.
“We are not living in an organic world, but we are doing our best to improve that world. Perhaps things aren’t perfect [with the regulation and raw material supply] but I think the best thing is to work with people and explain the challenges.”
“Perhaps associations like Foodwatch want to go further, and I say why not, but I think this is not the right way to go forward or the right environment to create around this sector.”
He said the raspberry yoghurt had been in development for three or four years, something that was explained to Foodwatch back in 2013 when it first broached the issue with the company. “We told them we were looking to switch and we would tell them when the changes had been made. But it takes a year or more to ensure the raw material, make changes to the packaging and use up old lines so as not to waste.”
He said he was “disappointed” with the way in which this had been communicated and the inference that the company had been lying.
Just a little bit non-organic
He said the non-organic ingredient made up only a very tiny percentage of the final product and this was not a top concern for consumers.
He added that everything was going “in the right direction” for more organic ingredients to be available in the future, and the regulation around organics reflected this steady progression. It was unfair to reduce all the hard work and progress of the organic sector down to this “small subject”, he said.
However, asked if the company would ever consider using non-organic aromas again in the future, he said: “If tomorrow we have a choice between an organic or non-organic aroma, of course we would choose organic. But if organic wasn’t available, but the market wanted this product, I can’t say we would say no. We would think about it and ask the consumer if they were okay with this.”