Government to mull on clear sugar labelling

CHOICE welcomes the Federal Government’s options paper on added sugar today which includes options for strong measures for sugar labelling like visual labelling of teaspoons of sugar on sugar-sweetened beverages.

“For years CHOICE has been calling for added sugar labelling and it’s great to see the Federal Government putting forward options that will allow Australians to make genuinely informed decisions” says CHOICE’s Campaigns and Policy Team Lead, Katinka Day.

“Labelling added sugar in the nutritional information panel and ingredient list is essential. But on top of this we need visual labelling of the amount of teaspoons of sugar in sugar-sweetened beverages to help people identify just how much sugar is in these drinks.”

Consumer research shows that Australians want to see added sugar labelling in the nutritional information panel, ingredients list and visually represented as teaspoons of sugar. Showing teaspoons of sugar is especially important for products that are very high in sugar and low in any beneficial nutrients such as sugar-sweetened beverages.

“Some teenagers are consuming 38 teaspoons of added sugar per day, equivalent to the sugar in four cans of Coke.

“It’s essential that we have labelling that allows people to easily identify the high level of sugar in these products, rather than letting companies get away with hiding this information in opaque statements on the back of packets” says Ms Day.

Leading national and international health advice clearly states that people should reduce their intake of added sugars. But current labels in Australia make it nearly impossible to identify how much sugar is added to a product by the manufacturer.

“At the moment you have to be a food scientist to identify added sugars in processed foods. People in Australia have no clear way of knowing how much sugar has been added to a food,” says Ms Day.

The options paper follows continued advocacy from CHOICE and a 2017 report which found that if consumers could identify added sugars on food packs they could avoid 26 teaspoons of sugar each day and up to 38.3 kilograms a year. A decision on sugar labelling sits with State, Territory and Federal Food and Health Ministers who will meet later this year to identify a solution.

“It’s great that we are now discussing potential solutions and we urge Ministers make a decision based on the needs of consumers not junk food companies.”

Billboard calls for Assistant Treasurer to end the free-range uncertainty

A consumer-funded billboard has been unveiled in the Victorian electorate of Assistant Treasurer the Hon Kelly O’Dwyer by CHOICE, calling for the delivery of standards amongst free-range eggs to meet consumers’ expectations.

The billboard was funded by 866 individuals who donated over $26,000 to get the message across to Minister O’Dwyer and her state and territory colleagues as they are set to make a decision on a free-range egg standard early this year.

According to CHOICE spokesperson Tom Godfrey, the Assistant Treasurer has the opportunity to create a meaningful egg standard.

“Consumers want free-range claims to mean something in Australia. At the moment, many claims are little more than cynical marketing slogans used to contrive a price premium,” Godfrey said.

“The support for the billboard further highlights how passionate consumers are about this issue and their firm views on what free-range should mean. They want a standard to reflect these expectations.”

Some egg producers have been actively lobbying for a standard that sets a lower benchmark for free-range production than the definition established through case law.

By mobilising Australia’s largest and loudest consumer movement, CHOICE fights to hold industry and government accountable and achieve real change on the issues that matter most.

What CHOICE wants

At a minimum, a national information standard should require that eggs labelled ‘free-range’ are produced in farms where:

  • The majority of chickens actually go outside regularly
  • Birds have room to move comfortably when outdoors
  • Birds have room to move comfortably inside the barn
  • Farmers undertake animal welfare practices 

Any products that don’t meet these minimum requirements should be labelled in a way that accurately reflects how they were produced, for example ‘access to range’. 

Most Aussies want free roaming hens according to Choice

Consumer advocacy group Choice has released its latest research highlighting consumers’ desire for a strong and meaningful free-range egg standard in Australia that would recognise the need for hens to regularly go outside, have room to move inside and outside, and for farmers to undertake animal welfare practices. 

The consumer group is calling for producers who fall short of consumers’ expectations to label their products in a way that accurately reflects their production practices, for example ‘access to range’.

“Consumers have a firm idea of what they believe free-range to mean and they want a standard to reflect these expectations. Creating a new category such as ‘access to range’ will provide consumer choice and confidence while catering to different production models,” said Choice spokesperson Tom Godfrey. 

The Choice research found that consumers believe it is important, very important or essential that the following elements are included in a standard: 

•    87% said that birds actually go outside regularly. 
•    91% said that birds have room to move comfortably when they are outdoors. 
•    89% said that farmers undertake animal welfare practices in the production of their eggs. 

“With free-range eggs costing almost double than caged, the purpose of a standard for free-range eggs should be to give consumers accurate information so they can decide whether they wish to pay a premium,” Godfrey said.

“A standard should not be used to shield producers who might be misleading consumers.”
“With no national standard for free-range eggs, consumers are getting ripped off. Earlier this year, we found that a minimum of 213 million eggs were sold as free-range in 2014 that didn’t meet consumers’ expectations of free-range.”

“It’s time to stop big egg producers cashing in on consumers’ desire to buy eggs that meet a higher standard of welfare without delivering a product that meets these claims,” said Godfrey.
Choice also noted that some egg producers are actively lobbying through this process for a standard that sets a lower benchmark for free-range production than the definition established through case law (which is that at a minimum, most chickens go outside on most ordinary days).
Rather than broadening the definition of free-range to accommodate big egg producers, consumers (62%) think that producers whose products fall short of a free-range standard should be able to label their products in a way that accurately reflects their production practices, for example ‘access to range’.

“Importantly, this approach will provide certainty for those large-scale producers who might be at risk of misleading consumers. Instead of remaining at risk of ACCC action or having to change their production practices, they can simply adopt more accurate labeling and give consumers genuine information about how their products are produced. That would be a win for consumers and a win for egg farmers, large and small,” Godfrey said.

Submissions to the government’s free-range egg labelling consultation process close on November 27 with the Government likely to make a decision on a standard in February next year.

CHOICE spits the dummy over infant formula shortages

Consumer advocacy group CHOICE has provided a list of suggestions that the Federal Government could use to ensure Australian mums have access to infant formula for children under the age of one.

In addition to encouraging parents to report shortages at retailers or supermarkets across the country, CHOICE has called on the government to enforce rules that limit the number of tins that can be brought at one time.

CHOICE media spokesperson’s Kate Browne says the popularity of formula feeding in China has meant that health and quality problems become more commonplace as the middle class has continued to rise.

“Babies under one often need formula for nutrition and for some it’s their only reliable food source. Consumers need protections so they can ensure their babies receive enough nutrients.”

“It’s now time for the Federal Government to act to ensure access to a reliable baby formula supply to protect some of the nation’s youngest and most vulnerable consumers,” Browne said.

In discussing the food shortage with Food Magazine, Browne looked to solutions put forward in Hong Kong and New Zealand that addressed the problem with a range of options –including stockpiling formula in a similar fashion to normal medications. 

CHOICE taking action on misleading labels

An investigation run by CHOICE has found that manufactures behind products such as Paddle Pops, Tiny Teddies and Shapes are misleading parents by using self-made school canteen certification on packing to imply that their junk food is a good option for school lunchboxes.

“CHOICE found 17 different industry-made certifications that have manipulated the school canteen guidelines to promote nutrient-poor and processed foods,” says CHOICE spokesperson Tom Godfrey.

CHOICE found that these logos predominantly appear on processed snacks with little or no nutritional value. Many products with these logos, such as Arnott's 100s & 1000s Tiny Teddies, Monster Noodle Snacks and Parker's Pretzel Snacks only get a health star rating of two or less.

“School canteen approved logos are essentially acting as health halos for processed, packaged foods. With one in four children in Australia overweight or obese, we need labels that make it easier to make healthier decisions.”

“We recommend that food companies replace these certifications with health star ratings so that consumers are able to make fair and easy comparisons between food products.”

“Our message to parents is simple: don’t trust the claims made by Arnott’s Tiny Teddies and other junk food companies around canteen certification.”

Coles on top in origin battle: CHOICE

CHOICE has analysed the country of origin claims for more than 320 packaged supermarket products from curries to crumbed fish and found 60 per cent of the products did not reveal where the ingredients were actually sourced.

The consumer advocacy group’s analysis comes following the release of the Federal Government’s new country of origin food labelling scheme, which CHOICE says failed to effectively address the lack of country specific information on food labels.

“While many consumers buy on price, our member research shows 95 per cent of consumers’ surveyed try to buy Australian foods, and the top reason given was the desire to support Aussie farmers,” said CHOICE spokesperson Tom Godfrey.

“Industry knows consumers have a big appetite to support Australian products and that’s why they’re so keen to get the word ‘Australian’ on their packaging,” Godfrey said.

CHOICE’s country of origin analysis also looked at a subset of 240 products – 60 different product types each with product representation from a market leading brand and an equivalent Aldi, Coles and Woolworths brand.

"Once you eliminate the ones that are simply 'packed in', 'processed in' or 'made in' Australia – claims which provide no information on the actual origin of the ingredients – the percentage of products from each brand that we could confidently say are Australian sourced was quite small: 41 per cent of Coles private label products, 39 per cent of Woolworths, 31 per cent of market leaders, and 13 per cent of Aldi products in this sample."

“Coles branded products more often had labelling that allowed us to pinpoint the source of their products ingredients, and gave a level of detail beyond the current minimum requirement. For example:

Coles Thai Green Chicken Curry, states:

Made in Australia with Australian Chicken. Rice from Thailand. Coconut milk from the Philippines or Thailand. Vegetables from Australia.

“In comparison the equivalent Woolworths Select green curry says: ‘Made in Australia using 100% Australian chicken’ and Aldi's green chicken curry states ‘Made in Australia’.

Coles Honey Ham sliced states:

Processed in Australia. Pork from EU and Canada. Honey from Australia.

"In comparison the equivalent Woolworths Select Honey Roast Leg Ham says 'Made in Australia from imported and local ingredients' and Aldi's Berg Honey Ham sliced states 'Made in Australia from local and imported ingredients'.

“Coles' labels are also in a consistent format, with country of origin labelling always appearing under the heading 'Information' so you know where to look.

“We would like to see more food manufacturers follow Coles’ lead and be more transparent about the origin of their ingredients by taking on board the option to list the main ingredients of their products.

“When the Government’s new labelling scheme comes into force, consumers wanting to buy Australian produce will need to look for the ‘Grown in Australia’ logo or the ‘Made in Australia from 100% Australian ingredients’ logo.”

“We will be looking at the same 320 products once the new labelling has been implemented to see if the scheme helps consumers know where their food is from,” Godfrey said.


New Country of Origin labels cause controversy

While the overall consensus is that the new label designs are better than the old, not everyone is completely satisfied.

On Tuesday (21 July), the government revealed the long-awaited proposed Country of Origin Labelling designs.

As to be expected, The Australian Made Campaign is pleased with the new system, which incorporates the Australian Made, Australian Grown logo (for those products made and grown in Australia), with the addition of a bar chart showing what proportion of ingredients come from Australia.

“The new system will help consumers make informed choices based on the ‘Australianness’ of products,” Australian Made Campaign Chief Executive, Ian Harrison, said.

“A greater number of growers and manufacturers using the logo will further strengthen its impact for the benefit of both consumers and producers,” Mr Harrison said.

But Consumer advocacy group CHOICE says the new scheme will still leave many consumers wondering where their food comes from.

“Unfortunately, the new system looks less useful for consumers wanting information about any of the 195 countries that are not Australia. For example, claims such as ‘Made in Australia from more than 50% Australian ingredients’ will have you asking if your frozen berries come from China, Canada or Chile,” says CHOICE spokesperson Tom Godfrey

“The new system leaves it up to the manufacturers to voluntarily declare the origin of a product’s main ingredient.

“CHOICE is deeply concerned that global trade agreements might have provided an excuse to deny consumers the full picture of where their food comes from, especially at a time when agreements like the TPP are being finalised in secret.

There was concern that over-regulating CoOL requirements could penalise Australian food exporters from trading on the “brand Australia” – particularly popular in Asian markets.

Australia also has an agreement with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that requires that any technical measures (such as origin labelling) not to discriminate against imported products and be based upon demonstrated need for regulation. This means, that any changes to CoOL must not be more trade-restrictive than necessary to fulfil its objective; to inform.

Aussie Farmers Direct is also not entirely satisfied with the new system.

“While Aussie Farmers Direct does not believe any food or grocery line with less than 90 per cent of Aussie ingredients should be associated with the ‘Made in Australia’ label, the new labelling at least gives clarity around the percentage of local ingredients and will help customers make an informed decision, said Keith Louie, Aussie Farmers Direct CEO.                                                                                        

The proposed new ‘contents symbol’ will be mandatory for most (but not all) food products and the roll-out will commence next year – following consultation with the States and Territories – with a phased implementation period for small business.

The new labelling will apply to those food categories which consumers and the community indicated they were most interested in country of origin food labelling – this was mainly fresh produce or minimally processed foods, these include:

  • Fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts
  • Meat, poultry and seafood
  • Eggs and dairy products (eg. milk, butter, cheese)
  • Deli products and cured meats (eg. salami, ham, bacon)
  • Fruit and vegetable juices
  • Canned/dried/packaged fruit and vegetables
  • Canned/packaged and frozen ‘ready to eat’ meals (eg. tinned soup, frozen meals)
  • Baked goods (e.g bread, muffins, cakes)
  • Meal bases, dressings and sauces (eg. salad dressings, pasta and stir-fry sauce)
  • Cereals and muesli bars
  • Cooking ingredients (flour and sugar)
  • Rice, noodles and pasta
  • Jams and spreads (eg. peanut butter and honey)

Sectors making foods not included in the list may use it the new food labels voluntarily.

For more information on the new system, click here.


Ministers get cracking on free range eggs

The Consumer Affairs Ministers have agreed to develop an enforceable national information standard for free range eggs.

Currently, the National Model Code of Practice for the welfare of animals defines “free-range” as using a stocking density of no more than 1,500 birds per hectare but is not enforceable.

Coles and Woolworths have stocking densities of 10,000 birds per hectare, nearly 7 times the Model Code limit.

Currently ACT and Queensland are the only states to have free range legislation in Australia, but they vary greatly. The ACT sets a stocking density of 1,500 birds per hectare, but Queensland sets a stocking density of 10,000 birds per hectare. SA is introducing its own voluntary free range egg code.

In June 2014, NSW Fair Trading commenced work on the development of a national information standard for free-range eggs. However this requires Federal Government support to proceed.

Under the Australian Consumer Law, a national information standard is designed to ensure consumers can make informed decisions about what they are purchasing. Other national information standards in place include ingredient labelling on cosmetics and toiletries and care labels for clothing and textiles.

Under the Australian Consumer Law, the maximum penalties for supplying goods and services that do not comply with information standards are $1.1 million for a body corporate and $220,000 for an individual.

CHOICE’s campaign for a national standard for free range eggs saw more than 9,000 consumers write to Consumer Affairs Ministers last week calling on them to agree to a national standard for free range eggs and end the “free range” farce.

“This is a massive win for consumers and a significant step towards stopping the free range rip-off,” said CHOICE Director of Campaigns & Communications Matt Levey.

“84 per cent of egg buyers agree that a mandatory national standard is needed and today their voices were heard.

“We congratulate ministers on this decision and we particularly appreciate the leadership shown by the Hon. Victor Dominello, MP, NSW Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation, who has strongly advocated for a standard.

“While we don't want to put the chicken before the egg, the fact that the Ministers have agreed to develop a national standard is a significant win for Aussie free-range-egg lovers. We now need to ensure that the standard meets consumers’ expectations,” Levey says.

CHOICE will continue to work with governments, regulators, industry and consumers to help inform the national standard.


Health-related marketing can be deceiving: CHOICE

A CHOICE investigation has found food companies such as McCain, Weight Watchers, Naturally Good and Mother Earth are serving up health-related marketing messages, even though they perform poorly in the health star rating system.   
CHOICE looked at 117 products from frozen meals to muesli bars and found a mixed bag when it came to how health-related marketing messages on pack translated into the products’ health star performance.
“Phrases such as ‘healthy choice’, ‘natural’, ‘made with wholegrains’ and ‘gluten free’ trick consumers into believing a product is healthy when in fact it can be higher in salt, sugar and saturated fat than a product without those claims,” said CHOICE spokesperson Tom Godfrey.
“Food manufacturers use messages on pack to persuade consumers that their product is healthier or better than other similar products. This is called the health halo effect and is often used as a marketing tool to entice consumers into paying a premium.”
CHOICE analysed the nutritional profile of a range of products marketing themselves as healthy. These products often received the same health star rating as a regular product but came with a hefty price premium.
“When you look at two McCain frozen pasta meals – one promoted with ‘healthy choice’ branding, images of herbs and claims of wholegrains and chia seeds, and the other with regular company branding – consumers would be forgiven for thinking the first one is a healthier choice,” Godfrey said.
“Surprisingly, both products receive 3.5 health stars, with the ‘healthy choice’ meal containing more sugars and sodium per 100g and a price premium of 23 percent per 100g.”
“The sad fact is relying on these messages to make informed choices about how healthy a product is can be highly problematic and leave you paying a price premium unnecessarily.”
“Unfortunately, some of the biggest and much loved brands use marketing messages to confuse and mislead consumers about what they are eating.”
CHOICE also compared Woolworths Select chicken and mushroom risotto with Weight Watchers sweet potato and pumpkin risotto with both products scoring 3.5 stars. However, the Weight Watchers meal comes with an 87 percent price mark-up per 100g.
In the health food aisle, while claims on Naturally Good carob buckwheat crispbread include ‘gluten free’, ‘no added cane sugar’, ‘no preservatives, artificial flavours or colours’ and ‘GMO free’, it only receives a rating of 0.5 stars.
Similarly, on-pack claims of Mother Earth baked oaty slices – golden oats – boast ‘source of fibre’, ‘wholegrain cereals’ and ‘no artificial colours or flavours’, but the product only scores 1.5 stars. Despite the product name Sun Health and ‘gluten free’ claim, their macadamia and honey bars only managed 1 star.
In the crackers category, Tuckers Natural gourmet rosemary and rock salt crackers are littered with claims including ‘naturally better for you!’, ‘yeast free’, ‘100% natural’ and ‘no artificial preservatives, colours or flavours’ yet only score 1.5 stars.     
CHOICE has been campaigning to get health stars on the front of every major product by encouraging consumers to send emails to Mars, Mondelez, PepsiCo, Goodman Fielder and George Weston urging them to reconsider putting health star ratings on their products.


Kellogg’s to roll out Health Star Ratings

Health Star Ratings will appear on Kellogg’s cereal in Australia and New Zealand from early June and will be on the full cereal range by the end of 2015.

More than 70 per cent of Kellogg’s cereals, or 26 products in the range, have a rating of between 4 and 5 health stars, with the total range spanning 1.5 to 5 stars.

The products will roll out on shelves over the coming months with the new packaging in a phased approach.

Kellogg’s senior nutrition and regulatory affairs manager Dr Michelle Celander said the company has been working on the implementation of Health Star Ratings since late last year.

“We are pleased to be adding Health Stars as another way to help shoppers make informed choices for themselves and their families, alongside other important nutritional information on our packs such as serve size and nutrients per serve. With products carrying health stars beginning to reach shelves in the next six weeks, we feel that now is the right time to let Australians know about the packaging updates and Health Star Ratings of their favourite cereals,” Celander said.

Kellogg’s All Bran, Sultana Bran, Guardian, Coco Pops and Special K Nourish variants will be the first to carry health stars.

Health Star Ratings will be rolled out across all Kellogg cereals; the largest portfolio of cereal products of any manufacturer in Australia and New Zealand.

Consumer advocacy group CHOICE has celebrated Kellogg’s move by calling it “a great win for consumers.”

“Kellogg’s was one of the biggest food manufacturers in Australia not implementing health stars and we are thrilled that they have listened to consumers and will be rolling out the scheme on all of their breakfast cereals,” says CHOICE spokesperson Tom Godfrey.

In March, CHOICE called upon Kellogg’s and six other food manufacturers to roll out the front of pack health star rating on their products.

“Kellogg’s coming on board with health stars will fill a large gap in the breakfast cereal aisle and now this aisle in the supermarket will be the first one with all the major food manufacturers on board with health stars”.

“While it is great to see Kellogg’s is on board, iconic brands such as McCain, PepsiCo, and Mars are still refusing to serve up the information consumers need.”

CHOICE’s campaign will continue to target the biggest food manufacturers in Australia who are holding out against the star rating system – McCain, Mars, PepsiCo, Mondolez, George Weston and Goodman Fielder.

The Health Star Rating system is a government led initiative that provides an easy way to compare the nutritional profile of packaged foods. The star rating scheme was developed by industry, public health and consumer experts and governments and the star rating takes into account the amount of salt, sugar and saturated fat in products per 100 grams.


CHOICE wants mandatory palm oil labelling

CHOICE’s latest food labelling research has found 70 percent of Australians want clearer palm oil labelling.

The consumer advocacy group said when it comes to Easter chocolate, “consumers are in a palm oil labelling wilderness, with phrases such as “vegetable fat” masking this unhealthy and often unsustainable product.” 

“When we looked at similar 125 gram packs of Easter eggs from Cadbury and Mars, we found ourselves in the dark when it came to determining the presence of palm oil,” said CHOICE spokesperson Tom Godfrey.

“We believe that consumers have a right to know what they’re buying this Easter. In order to make informed decisions, we would like to see palm oil labelling mandatory on food products.”

CHOICE has released the results of its latest palm oil survey which found 70 percent of Australians think it’s important that palm oil is labelled separately on the ingredients list.

CHOICE surveyed 1061 Australians aged 18-75 years. Of the Australians who place importance on being able to correctly identify whether a product contains palm oil, 59 percent cited environment reasons, 58 percent health reasons, 45 percent animal welfare reasons and 37 percent ethical reasons relating to Fairtrade/worker conditions.

“The current labelling system allows palm oil to be hidden behind a generic ‘vegetable oil’ or ‘vegetable fat’ label. It’s not surprising that only 15 percent of Australians mentioned palm oil when asked which oils are included in those terms,” Godfrey said.

“Many Australians are not aware that palm oil is a common ingredient in products ranging from margarines, biscuits, breads and breakfast cereals to chocolates, instant noodles and personal care products.

“It is estimated that about half of all packaged items in supermarkets contain this type of oil.”

“Palm oil production has been associated with significant environmental impacts, while the product also contains more than 50 percent saturated fat and can raise ’bad’ cholesterol levels. It is one of the two tropical oils the Heart Foundation recommends consumers avoid, along with coconut oil.”

“Even though a growing number of companies now use certified sustainable palm oil, it makes up just 18 percent of the global palm oil supply, and the type of certification is not always declared on pack,” Godfrey said.

“Whether it's for health reasons, environmental concerns, or to make food purchasing decisions that align with personal values and beliefs, consumers should be able to identify palm oil in their chocolate treats next Easter.”

The Forum of Food Regulation Ministers will be looking at a recommendation this year that would see palm oil be identified on food products.

CHOICE is urging consumers to email their state minister to let them know they want labels that identify whether palm oil is in their food. 


CHOICE targets manufacturers “refusing” to roll out health star ratings

Consumer advocacy group CHOICE has launched a campaign calling on Kellogg’s and 6 other food manufacturers to roll out the front of pack health star rating on their products.

The star rating scheme was developed by industry, public health and consumer experts and governments to help shoppers quickly compare the healthiness of products. The star rating takes into account the amount of salt, sugar and saturated fat in products per 100 grams.

“Food manufacturers have been on notice since June last year to implement the new health star scheme however iconic brands such as Kellogg’s, McCain and Mars are still refusing to serve up the information consumers need,” says CHOICE spokesperson Tom Godfrey.

CHOICE’s campaign targets some of the biggest food manufacturers in Australia – Kellogg’s, McCain, Mars, PepsiCo, Mondolez, George Weston and Goodman Fielder – and calls on consumers to ask for health star ratings on these companies’ products:

“The system works best when shoppers can compare several products in a category, like-for-like. For example, right now you can walk down a breakfast cereal aisle and see a range of health stars already on different brands, but there are some obvious gaps.”

“It’s just not good enough that a major player like Kellogg’s,that sells popular brands Just Right, Special K, Coco Pops and Nutri-Grain, are withholding basic health information and that’s why we have launched this campaign.”

“Kellogg’s should be embracing the new system and celebrating the fact that Just Right and All Bran receive 4 and 5 stars respectively. On the flip side, Australians deserve to know that Nutri-Grain and Coco Pops get 2 and 1.5 stars respectively.”

“We congratulate the food companies that have taken the initiative and have health stars already on their packs. The two retail giants, Coles and Woolworths have stars on their private labels and Sanitarium, Nestle, Uncle Tobys and Lion are all getting involved with products already displaying stars and many more on the way.”

Yesterday (March 16) Australian cereal manufacturers came under fire for promoting health claims on their packaging, despite some products being a third sugar.

The Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) said these manufacturers are “potentially misleading consumers” by promoting health claims on their packaging.

Companies that have so far failed to roll out health star ratings, and their brands:

  • George Weston (TipTop)
  • Goodman Fielder (Helga’s, Vogel’s, Wonder White, Lawson’s, White Wings)
  • Kellogg’s (Just Right, Special K, Rice Bubbles, Coco Pops)
  • Mars (Dolmio, KanTong, MasterFoods, Uncle Ben's, Mars confectionary)
  • McCain (Frozen veggies, frozen meals, pizzas)
  • Mondolez (Kraft, Belvita and Philadelphia)
  • PepsiCo  (Smiths, Quaker, Doritos, Red Rock, GrainWaves)

Kellogg’s cereal brands and their Health Star Rating:

  • Just Right 4 stars
  • Special K Original 4 stars
  • All Bran Original 5 stars
  • Coco Pops 2 stars
  • Crunchy Nut 2 stars
  • Fruit Loops 2 stars
  • Mini-Wheats Little Bites Original 4.5 stars
  • Nutri-Grain 2 stars
  • Rice Bubbles 3 stars
  • Sultana Bran 4 stars


Consumers should be the judge of food labelling improvements: CHOICE

Choice has renewed its call for the Federal Government to test any proposed improvements to food labelling with consumers to ensure the changes are clear and meaningful.

The call follows the announcement that a taskforce of Ministers Joyce, Macfarlane, Nash, Billson and Robb will present a country of food origin labelling proposal to Cabinet.

“Choice applauds the government for taking action on food country of origin labelling. The simple fact is consumers want to know where their food comes from and the current labelling system is vague and confusing,” said Choice CEO Alan Kirkland.

“Importantly we are calling for any proposed improvements to be consumer tested. Labels are meant for consumers, and the best judges of what is clear and meaningful on food packaging is Australian shoppers – not politicians or food importers.”

“The last thing we need is another flawed and confusing country of origin framework that does nothing more than polish up the status quo.”

“CHOICE’s 2012 country of origin labelling survey found that the confusing terminology used is a major source of frustration with 86 percent of consumers saying it is unclear.”

“The consumer testing to develop the Federal Government’s successful health star rating scheme, launched last year, is a great approach that could be applied to country of origin labelling.” 

“We are continuing to petition the Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce to fix country of origin labelling in Australia and test any new system with consumers. The petition, which was launched a week ago, has already been signed by over 23,000 people.”

CHOICE has called for the following changes to country-of-origin labelling:

  • ‘Product of Australia’ or “Australian produce” = significant ingredients and virtually all processing to be from the country claimed
  • ‘Manufactured in Australia’ = Relating solely to manufacturing
  • ‘Packaged in Australia’ = Relates solely to manufacturing
  • Consumer testing of any changes to ensure they are meaningful

A CHOICE survey of 700 members found only 12 per cent were able to accurately identify the meaning of ‘Made in Australia’.


Choice sizes up food packaging

Consumer watchdog Choice has targeted front of pack quantity statements, urging consumers to “look past the flashy brands and bright sales signs.”

“Retailers often try to trick consumers with fancy branding, celebrity spruikers and bold marketing claims on packaging so one of the best ways to work out how much you are getting for your money is to look at the quantity measure, ” said Choice Head of Media, Tom Godfrey.

“Similar looking products often have vastly different quantities.”

To demonstrate the value of quantity statements, Choice bought similar products that looked like they were a similar size.

“Our comparison of two similar grocery baskets found that by paying attention to the quantity statements, shoppers can save money and take home more breakfast cereal, laundry powder and snacks,” Godfrey said.

“We found although Mission Chips and Doritos look similar, Misson Chips give you an extra 55 grams of corn chips while their rival load you up with extra air. Arnotts get in on the act too with its White Chocolate Tim Tams serving up the same pack size and price as its much loved original Tim Tams but containing two fewer biscuits.”

The comparison comes following a National Measurement Institute review of almost 35,000 prepackaged items in 2013-14, which found numerous examples where product weights weren’t properly labelled. On average, 14 percent of prepacked items were not labelled in accordance with trade measurement law.

All products were purchased at Woolworths in Marrickville, NSW on 14 January 2015.


Choice calls for further simplification of ‘made in’ claims

Consumer watchdog Choice is calling for further simplification of the country of origin framework for food products.

While the watchdog backs the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Industry’s recommendation that food country of origin labelling needs to change, Choice believes that the committee needs to go further by creating a more simplified framework.

Choice director of campaigns and communications, Matt Levey says that the proposed solution to the current system runs the risk of being equally as confusing as the new framework which has a focus on percentages of the amount of local inputs versus imported ingredients.

“It’s not clear that this will be a significant improvement for already confused shoppers,” said Levey.

“Choice is calling for a simplification of country-of-origin labelling, giving consumers the information they want, getting rid of the information they don’t, and testing the revised framework to make sure it’s meaningful.

“Our research shows many consumers are passionate about where their food is grown, and where it is manufactured, but are confused about current labelling requirements. We strongly urge the Federal Government to undertake direct consumer research before making any changes to the current labelling framework,” Mr Levey says.

The Committee’s proposal for the three claims are as follows:

  • ‘Grown in’ – 100 per cent content from the country specified;
  • ‘Product of’ – 90 per cent content from the country specified;
  • ‘Made in [country] from [country] ingredients’ – 90 per cent content from the country specified;

For products which can’t make these premium claims, the Committee recommends two qualified claims:

  • ‘Made in [country] from mostly local ingredients’ – more than 50 per cent Australian content;
  • ‘Made in [country] from mostly imported ingredients’ – less than 50 per cent Australian content.

Levey says that a Choice survey of 700 members found that only 12 percent were able to accurately identify the meaning of ‘Made in Australia’.

“Most consumers won’t know that ’made in Australia from mostly local ingredients‘ is any different from ’Made in Australia from Australian ingredients‘,” Levey says.

“One solution would have been to qualify the country of the characterising ingredient or ingredients. For example, a frozen vegetable mix made in Australia with some imported vegetables and Australian carrots and peas could state that it is ‘Made in Australian with Australian carrots and peas’,” Mr Levey says.


Packaging needs to display quantity on the front: CHOICE

CHOICE is calling on policy makers not to remove the requirement that product quantity information be on the front of packaging.

CHOICE’s call comes in response to a proposal by the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) to remove the requirement for Australian packaged food products to display quantity information on the front of pack.          

“Whether it is getting less joy from our chocolate bars or not so saucy pasta pots, some food companies look to pump profits by reducing portion sizes while maintaining the same price and package size,” said CHOICE spokesperson Tom Godfrey.

“Quantity statements allow consumers to quickly see what they’re paying for, such as 1.25 litres of lemonade or 220 grams of chocolate.”

Last year, Cadbury was caught out promoting 10% more joy when they increased their 200 gram block to 220 grams, even though it was originally 250 grams.

“The industry proposal to hide the quantity information on the back of pack is particularly concerning given consumers’ reliance on the information,” Godfrey said.

A national survey conducted by CHOICE suggests nearly three quarters of Australian consumers want to continue to see how much they’re getting on the front of packages. The survey of over 3000 adults found 74 per cent considered it important that quantity information is shown on the front label.

“It’s simply incorrect for industry groups to claim consumers do not care where the quantity statement is located,” Godfrey said.

Currently Australian weights and measure laws, and an international recommendation that Australia has signed, requires that quantity statements are located on the front label of packages, where it is easy for consumers to notice, read and compare figures.

“It’s important to know what you’re paying for – we’ve seen plenty of examples in the past where companies have quietly shrunk the size of products but not the price.”


Choice questions marketing tactics of powdered milk brands

Consumer watchdog Choice says that Aspen, Nestle and Nutricia’s “junior milk” milk products are engaging in questionable marketing tactics when it comes to the marketing of infant formula.

The World Health Organisation Code bans the marketing of infant formula for children under the age of one, however there is no restriction on manufacturers advertising toddler and junior milks for babies over 12 months.

Choice says that these “junior milk” products are designed to appeal to parents of older children, however many parents are unaware that such products are unnecessary after the child turns one.

“We believe the branding of toddler and junior milk is too similar to infant formula, and acts as proxy advertising for all types of formula,” says Choice journalist Kate Browne.

“Older children should be able to meet their nutritional requirements from eating a healthy diet without special toddler milks.

Choice also says that nutritional claims found on a number of products such as Nestle’s NAN toddler milks which claim to “support your toddler’s digestive immune system”, and Aptamil toddler and junior milks which promise to “nutritionally support your child’s immune system and brain development”, are essentially meaningless.

“Perhaps the worst offender is Aspen who advertises its S26 toddler milk with the claim it’s the ‘perfect mix of science and love’. However, they have a different message for retailers, ‘keep mums buying even after their little ones turn two,” says Browne.

"The branding on pack is also confusing with large 3 and 4 figures depicted by the age panel although they have nothing to do with the age of the child the product is designed for. They seem to be there to deliberate confuse parents.”

“Given most healthy one-year olds are capable of drinking cow’s milk there is very little point paying a lot more for powdered supplements.”  


Health Star labelling: how transparency helped Tucker’s Natural get five stars

The rollout of consumer watchdog Choice’s front-of-pack Health Stars Rating Scheme has been surrounded by a litany of scandals and resistance from industry groups, including heated public exchanges with food giant Mondelez.

More significantly, federal assistant health minister (pictured below) Fiona Nash's chief of staff was prompted to resign when strong, direct links to food industry lobby groups were revealed – after he had ordered the Health Stars website to be taken down.

The federal government, however, has now approved the rating scheme and food manufacturers are now able to voluntarily implement the front of package ratings. Woolworths is amongst the first to apply the ratings to their range.

In the first round of ranking, only three out of 260 foods were given a five star rating in the scheme. Tucker's Natural produces two out of those three.

Their philosophy, says managing director Sam Tucker, has always revolved around using natural ingredients to work towards the best nutritional quality as a final outcome.

"We launched seven years ago. In year two we were looking at global trends and doing our market analysis, and certainly identified the health and functional food spaces as the future," Tucker says.

The personal driving force for Tucker was the birth of his three boys, now aged six, five and four, all born within two and a half years – a fact he says seems 'inconceivable'.

"We were buying them rice crackers thinking they're not bad for them, but they're not nutritionally good. My children were licking the MSG flavouring off the Sakatas and dumping them around the house."

It was that frustration which led him to develop Tucker's multifibre and smart snack range. Consumer trends meant that supermarket shelves were focused on 'free from' products, whether that was free from egg, dairy, gluten or other intolerance related ingredients, rather than 'better for you' products.

"Multifibre isn't the sexiest term. We developed that range thinking that we were absolute geniuses and we were going to take over the world. We took that to the major supermarkets and they looked at us like we were on planet nine."

Over time, Tucker says, consumers and the industry have caught up. And as they've caught up, the marketing and sales points that arise from being healthy often outweigh the cost of premium ingredients and packaging.

"From a customer perspective – I don't mean the end consumer – the ratings certainly lend credibility to what we're presenting to our buyers."

Tucker is the first to admit that he's well positioned to capitalise on the Choice ratings, as he's already achieved high star ratings and most of his products fall in to the 'better for you' category.

"To be my own devil's advocate, we have a gourmet cracker range which might not do as well."

Choice’s five star rating scheme uses an algorithm to dispense its ratings, taking in to account amounts of saturated fat, sodium, sugar and fibre, awarding bonus stars for nutritional content.

It does this based on 100 gram or millilitre serving sizes across the board; less than perfect for rating a product such as vegemite, but more perfect, Choice says, than existing ratings which are based on arbitrary and confusing serving sizes and daily intake percentages.

Choice released the results of a study on serving sizes in the snack food category, saying it highlights the inconsistency of the industry to label its food clearly.

Of 40 corn chip products, minimum serving sizes ranged from 25g to 100g. 101 potato chip products listed serving sizes from 19g to 50g. Ready meals ranged from 115g to 450g, with seemingly no distinction as to why.

Within the Health Stars Rating Scheme, there's a lot of variance between similar products. Choice offered up the ratings of string cheese: Kraft's string cheese scores two stars, while Bega's stringers achieved four and a half.
It's these differences that Choice thinks will make all the difference to parents. A quick glance at similar products on the shelf with front of package ratings will give them an easy comparison.

Advocates say that these small decisions, multiplied over the population, will add up to huge health savings in a nation increasingly beset by obesity and health issues. Choice also believes that this competition will bring more products with tangible health benefits to the market.

In fact, on 14 June, the federal health department noted that if voluntary uptake of the front-of-pack labelling wasn't high enough, the process would be made mandatory in two years. That means that the industry might not have a say: adapt or decline.

One of the bluntest critics of the ratings scheme in Mondelez, owner of Kraft, Cadbury, Nabisco and Oreo. Choice campaigns manager Angela Cartwright stated that, "Choice decided to take a closer look at Mondelez after the company attempted to discredit the Health Star Rating Scheme, claiming the scheme was ‘ill-founded, unscientific and confusing’, when in fact it was considerably informed by market research showing strong support for it.

"Choice did three product comparisons and found the Health Stars shot down the Mondelez product each time," Cartwright said.

Mondelez hit back by saying that 'Philadelphia Cheese Cream is healthier than an apple' according to the ratings.
In fairness, Sam Tucker says, it's not the most ridiculous ratings systems his company has attempted to adhere to. Just about all of Tucker's Naturals products are developed with such ratings in mind.

He first had 'the door slammed in his face' when developing the Portion Snack Range for the Healthy Kids schools program.

"We do better than the criteria. We usually beat it. And then they turn around and say, ‘well, no, you don't qualify for some unusual thing.’"

In this case, where foods are divided in to green, amber and red, his products fall firmly in to the green product in every single way – except they're classed as processed foods, and there's no green category for processed foods.
That prompted Tucker's Natural to make its own rating system, of a sort.

"I said, ‘look, this is ridiculous. Let's create our own way of managing that for our own brand.’ So we came up with the Everyday Smart Snack logo. We've used that to communicate that we know you can eat it everyday as part of a balanced diet."

The key to a move like that, Sam Tucker thinks, is to back it up. The brand has always made a push for transparency. While they used to communicate just about everything via packaging, Tucker says it became too much.

They instead push a vast majority of that information to their website, under a 'Smart Snack' portal. Ingredient lists, fibre content and more are all an effort to build trust with the consumer.

"In the age of transparency and consumerism, it's easy for the customer to connect and pass opinion, and it's a dangerous strategy not to be transparent and not to live up to what you're saying you're going to deliver," Tucker says.

When asked if he thinks the ratings are too stringent, seeing as only three of the 260 products reviewed received five star ratings, Tucker was reluctant to condemn the ratings.

"The fact that a lot of snacks – and again we're not privy to the list of products – assuming, those snacks were processed foods, it shows you that the marketing claims being made on a lot of products are potentially misleading."

It's a sentiment that Choice shares, saying that a lot of consumers were tired of being misled by labels of 'low fat' when the fat could just as likely have been replaced by artificial sweeteners, not really providing tangible health benefits in the long rung.

"It's easy to be transparent when you're honest," says Tucker.

There are legitimate grievances with the ratings system. Manufacturers will be the ones to take up the cost of reworking their labelling, and Tucker also acknowledges a lot of people take issue with the fact that the stars will take up valuable marketing space – especially if it's not a particularly high-scoring product.

"I think it's something that we need to accept as an industry, that we need to provide as much information to consumers as possible for them to make the right decisions. Consumers are sensible. They make decisions every day.

"If a consumer is looking to eat healthily and they're satisfied the criteria is going to assist that, then it certainly does help to rate products and allow them to make better decisions. If it's an easier thing for the consumer to understand, we're happy with that."


Health Star Rating gets sign off by food ministers

Food and health ministers from federal, state and territory governments have signed off on the Health Star Rating Scheme and consumer watchdog Choice, is calling on food manufacturers to start rolling out the rating across their product lines.

Choice CEO Alan Kirkland says that the scheme is a win for consumers and hopes that it will provide a strong incentive to food manufacturers to improve the nutritional profile of their products.

“We know that many shoppers are confused and frustrated by the current state of food labelling, in which the complex, numerical information on the back of packs is rendered even more confusing on those products which carry the food industry’s voluntary Daily Intake Guide percentages,” says Kirkland.

“Now that ministers have given the final sign off to the Health Star Rating Scheme, responsibility shifts to food manufacturers to start rolling out the star ratings on their product ranges. There is a great PR opportunity waiting for the early adopters, as we’ve seen with Monster Health Food Co which rolled out the first star rating in April.

The voluntary scheme was developed to replace the current daily intake guide and was initially approved by food and health ministers in June last year.

The scheme’s accompanying website was launched in February this year but taken down only 12 hours after it went live.

Health department officials initially claimed that the website was a draft’ and that it was ‘made live inadvertently’, however it was later revealed that Nash’s chief of staff, Alastair Furnival – who is a co-owner of his wife’s lobbying firm Australian Public Affairs – ordered health officials to pull the site down.

The move attracted widespread criticism from labor senators including Penny Wong, and health advocates, many of which sight Furnival’s involvement in lobbying firms as a significant conflict of interest.