Food industry watchdog association Foodwatch filed complaints against nine different products sold in the Netherlands, all of which claimed to contain no added sugar.
According to the European Union’s Nutrition and Health Claims Register (NHCR), a no added sugar claim may be used only if the product contains no sugar or any other ingredient used for its sweetening purposes.
The Dutch Advertising Authority, Reclame Code (RCC), upheld the complaint against seven manufacturers, a verdict that left Foodwatch “satisfied”.
"Misleading consumers with false information and pseudonyms for sugar is not acceptable," said the non-profit. "Eating too much sugar has negative consequences for our health, yet more than half of the products on supermarket shelves contain added sugar.
“Disguising this is irresponsible, and we are pleased to see the Advertising Authority agreeing that this deception is not permitted.”
However, the RCC allowed the claim to be used on two products containing small quantities of apple juice syrup, accepting the manufacturers’ arguments that they are used for texture and binding purposes.
The offending ingredients: Date paste, apple juice concentrate, sugar beet syrup...
Two of the complaints related to Kellogg’s Crunchy Muesli with Apricot and Pumpkin Seeds and its Muesli with Almonds, Cashew and Cocos, which contain 14% and 15% date paste respectively. Foodwatch filed a complaint against the manufacturer as well as Dutch retailer Jumbo, which made the claim on its online shop.
“The date paste is unmistakably used in the present products because of the sweetening power," argued Foodwatch. "In both cases, ‘date’ is not part of the name of the product and is not visible on the front of the label. A considerable part of the non-negligible sugar content of 12 g and 16 g per 100 g of sugars come from the date paste.”
Kellogg said the primary function of the date paste is to bind the grains and other ingredients to the muesli clusters and said the product packaging states: "This product contains naturally occurring sugars."
However, the RCC upheld the complaint on the basis the level of sweetness added to the product by the date paste was “too great” for it to bring structural functionality only.
Both companies were ordered to remove the claim from products in the Netherlands and other European countries where the cereals are sold.
Jumbo has already removed the claims from its website. Kellogg did not reply to a request for comments from FoodNavigator.
Tomato juice with glucose, Salsa with sugar
The RCC also upheld a complaint against Dutch supermarket Albert Heijn for its Rinse apple syrup. “In reality, the main ingredient is concentrated sugar beet juice and 61% of the product consists of sugars,” said Foodwatch.
UK fruit snacking company Urban Fruit was told to remove the claims from its strawberry sweets that are sweetened with apple juice.
UK juice manufacturer Cawston Press saw its complaint upheld for a tomato juice claiming to contain no added sugars but which contained added glucose for sweetening purposes.
Finally, baby food manufacturer Hipp’s claim that its biscuits contained no added sugar was deemed misleading as it contained 18% apple juice concentrate.
In all of the above cases, Foodwatch also filed a complaint against the supermarket Albert Heijn for making the health claims on its e-commerce shop.
The retailer was also told to remove the no added sugar claim from the web listing of Swedish brand Santa Maria’s Mango Papaya Salsa, which is sweetened with standard sugar.
Two claims not upheld
In two cases, however, manufacturers successfully argued that the added ingredients were not used for sweetening purposes.
Peijnenburg (the strategic Dutch partner for UK company Natural Balance Foods, which owns the Nakd brand) said the concentrated apple juice in the Nakd Apple Crunch cereal bar is used for binding moisture and preserving the texture.
“This argument does not appear unlikely given the limited amount of apple juice content in relation to the large share of dates, raisins and apple in the product,” the RCC said, concluding it was not in breach of the NHCR and was not misleading.
Foodwatch said it saw this as “an erosion” of the NHCR and was considering appealing the verdict.
In the other case, RCC allowed a no added sugar claim on Albert Heijn’s 'fruit squeezes' for children with pear puree concentrate.