The label of the product in question, a chocolate-flavoured custard dessert called Natillas, states it has no added sugar and that the 6 g of sugar per 100 g serving are “naturally occurring in the milk and chocolate”.
Naturally-occurring sugar in chocolate?
This claim was challenged by consumer rights organisation, the Association of Communication Users, but the complaint was dismissed by Autocontrol, Spain's advertising regulatory body, which said the claim made by Spanish manufacturer Mercadona was in accordance with EU Regulation 1924/2006 on nutrition and health claims.
The Autocontrol ruling states: “After detailed examination of the advertising piece and given the evidence provided by the parties, this section must conclude that the promoted product has not [had] any
monosaccharide or disaccharide added to it, nor any other food used for its sweetening properties.”
But food lawyers have pointed out that as chocolate, as a compound ingredient in the dessert, contains added sugar as a sweetening ingredient, this puts Mercadona in breach of EU law.
An easy health halo?
So what does this ruling mean for other food manufacturers - is this an open door to easy 'no added sugar' claims that could add a coveted health halo to products?
Not really, says Lara Skoblikov, regulatory expert and partner at Food Compliance International, and companies certainly shouldn’t try to take the Spanish ruling as a precedent.
“The ruling is not binding and will be of little value to a food business manufacturer who has to defend itself in court for using the claim incorrectly. Food business operators are themselves responsible for compliance with food law. The lesson is to be careful with blindly applying rulings from self-regulatory bodies.”
She says the golden rule to follow for no added sugar claims is to ensure strict compliance with the conditions of use – that means no added mono- or disaccharides or any other food used for its sweetening properties.
There is no EU guidance on the meaning of ‘food used for its sweetening properties’ but in order to be on the safe side, she recommends using the Codex Alimentarius guidelines for use of nutrition and health claims as a safe harbor.
This states that a no added sugar claim can be used if “the food contains no ingredients that contain sugars as an ingredient (examples: jams, jellies, sweetened chocolate, sweetened fruit pieces, etc.)”.
Its full ruling can be read here (in Spanish)