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About the pros and cons of food ratings on packaging

 Starry – what packaging can reveal about its products.  Australia and New Zealand already have them, the USA are discussing their introduction and in Europe they were already refused years ago: striking, intuitive and easy to understand food labels on packaging units designed to tell consumers at first sight how healthy a product is. In Australia and New Zealand the system consists of five “Health Stars” printed onto the front of the packet. The more stars a product has the higher the nutritional value.

But the system apparently so simple and beneficial at first sight, has its drawbacks. On the one hand, producers in New Zealand, for example, are free to decide whether they want to use it or not. On the other hand, there are some companies trying to make their products look healthier than they really are with the help of these ratings.
Consumer advisors want to have nutritional value labelling on packaging. Photo: The Daily Drinks Co.

Consumer advisors want to have nutritional value labelling on packaging. Photo: The Daily Drinks Co.

Marketing or consumer deception?

Only recently the world’s biggest manufacturer of cereal products was reproached of this – the Kellog Company. The packaging units of such Kellogg’s Cereals as Fruit Loops or Crunchy Nut Cornflakes featured an exemplary rating of 3.5 stars in order to explain the system to consumers. The product, however, has actually only received two stars in line with the value rating scale and these were printed in clearly smaller letters. The suspicion of consumer deception automatically comes to mind. A similar case in point was Nestlé’s chocolate drink Milo. The product that actually only received 1.5 stars was sold in a packet that claimed 4.5 stars provided the beverage was prepared with low-fat milk.
Nestlé’s chocolate drink Milo sports 4.5 stars – provided it is prepared with low-fat milk. Photo: Copyright 2016 © Nestlé. All rights reserved.

Nestlé’s chocolate drink Milo sports 4.5 stars – provided it is prepared with low-fat milk. Photo: Copyright 2016 © Nestlé. All rights reserved.

Questionable labelling

Questionable labelling Such attempts make consumers lose their confidence in labelling systems originally introduced to be consumer-friendly and which are struggling with strong opposition from political and business circles anyway. After all: surveys show that buying decisions are determined by such factors as taste and price rather than considerations on the product’s nutritional values and effects on health.

Similar arguments were presented by the opponents in the European Parliament for the vote on a traffic light system for labelling food packaging in 2010. They argued that a balanced explanation could not be attached to individual foodstuffs and that this type of labelling was too simple and lacked scientific evidence. Instead of a rating it was decided that by late 2016 it would be mandatory across Europe to state the nutritional values of food products on their packaging – which has only been a voluntary measure so far.
Sanitarium, the producer of Weet-Bix in Australia and New Zealand, uses this star-based rating system on its packaging units. Photo: New Zealand Health Association Ltd.

Sanitarium, the producer of Weet-Bix in Australia and New Zealand, uses this star-based rating system on its packaging units. Photo: New Zealand Health Association Ltd.

Global trend?

Although there is no 100% operational solution available all parties continue working on it intensely and governments are spending money on it – so this is not the end of the story and if the US was to follow suit now this would probably mean that Europe will also address the issue again.
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