As someone who has always had an interest in healthy food and drink I am very familiar with health claims on food products and healthy food brands such as food giant Kelloggs. I spent much of my teenage years eating Kellogg's Special K for breakfast, drawn in by the clever marketing of the smiling woman oozing confidence in a beautiful red dress by the ocean. More recently, I have chosen Kelloggs for convenience, opting for their low calorie snacks whilst passing through service stations; in which I invariably find it difficult to source a 'healthy' snack.
Until recently I have thought of Kellogg's as being somewhat of an ally in this battle against high fat/ high calorie foods, until that was, the release of their Multi Grain Porridge.
It was late 2013, whilst watching the television, a Kellogg's advert came on which struck a nerve with me. The TV ad stated "New Special K Multi Grain Porridge - a delicious blend of oats, barely, rye and delicious berries, with 30% less fat than most other porridges". I was confused, I thought - but porridge isn't high in fat?! (only 8g/100g) AND the fat it does contain is the 'good' kind being mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat with only 1.5g saturated fat per 100g.
I was perplexed, what is the composition of this new porridge which Kellogg's are touting as being a 'healthier' choice and how can Kelloggs make this claim? So I set about analysing the nutritional content of the porridge vs a leading brand of plain porridge oats. What I found out not only shocked me, but really angered me!
Kelloggs were able to make this claim as they were correct in their statement - YES the porridge did contain 30% less fat than the standard porridge, however, what Kellogg's had left out was how they managed to reduce the fat content to make this claim. They did it, by replacing the natural oats which contain small amounts of fat with sugar, which is fat free. This infuriated me as they were not only confusing the consumer, they were confusing me and I have 6 years of nutrition education under my belt!
The majority of the general pubic have not studied nutrition, what they know and learn is from what they read, and are told. This blatant misuse of a marketing claim tricks consumers into thinking they are making the 'healthier' choice, when they are doing the opposite. In a sachet of Kelloggs Multi Grain Porridge (50g) there are 3 teaspoons of sugar, in the equivalent 50g of natural porridge oats there is only 0.3 of a teaspoon of sugar, along with the calorie content being marginally lower. To confuse the consumer even more, is that Kellogg's nutrition content didn't refer to the porridge once it had been made up, which can be either using milk or water. For example using water vs a full cream milk would have a huge impact on the fat content.
Also, if we look at the price, Kellogg's Multi Grain Oats are expensive when compared to plain oats. For example today Kellogg's Multi Grain oats are being sold in Waitrose for £0.99 per sachet which is £1.98 per 100g, vs Waitrose Essentials Porridge oats which sell for £1.20 for 1kg, working out at 0.12p per 100g, making Kellogg's Multi Grain Oats almost 17 times more expensive - and what exactly are you paying for? More sugar! Every supermarket will have their own brand of oats at a fraction of the cost of Kellogg's Multi Grain Oats. Not only are they cheaper, they ARE the healthier choice!
So on 8th December, 2013 I sent my complaint off to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). As it turned out a further 14 others had also made the same complaint, including food multinational PepsiCo. Throughout 2014 I was involved in much correspondence and was extremely happy when I received the news that the ASA reported that Kellogg's comparative nutrition claim was in breech of the code and ordered Kellogg's to immediately refrain from running the advert and remove the claim from all of their products.
Yet this post isn't just about Kellogg's, this is about food companies trying to sell products, as they should, just not at the expense our health. Another example of when I have seen of a company doing this is in Australia, The Natural Confectionary Company sell various sweets, such as jelly snakes and jelly babies made from 'natural' fruit juices. The claim they make is that the product is 99% fat free. I recall as a young girl (pre degree study) thinking, 'sweets made from fruit juices, no fat, how bad can they be'?! Now I know, that these sweets were pure sugar and when you eat to much sugar, it turns to fat. Ironic it isn't, these companies know what sells products and health claims like these act to boost sales.
So what is the moral of all of this? Don't trust the big multinationals? Well you should definitely be aware. Do they set out to trick us, maybe not, but their claims can confuse us and they can make us think we are making the better choice when really we aren't at all.
What is really important in all of this is why you should ALWAYS read the label. Analyse the back of the packet and if for some reason a claim such as 'lower in fat' is made, look to see why?! What has been added? Often you will find it is inevitably sugar.
Click here to read more about the ASA investigation.
Happy shopping, Anna x