Snack bar brand KIND is petitioning the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to change its rules on health claims, amid fears that greater precedence is being given to the quantity of individual ingredients and not the overall nutritional quality of a food product.
The New York-based company has submitted a ‘citizen petition’, arguing that the current framework allows manufacturers to distract consumers from the presence of unwanted or unhealthy ingredients like sodium and sugar.
KIND wants the administration to move high-salt and high-sugar products out of the scope of nutrient content claims, like ‘a good source of protein’ and ‘an excellent source of vitamins’, while amending disclosure levels so that front-of-pack claims and nutrition decks equal out.
The brand’s founder and CEO, Daniel Lubetzky, said: “Nutrient content claims such as ‘good source of fibre’ or ‘excellent source of protein’ are found on the front of food packaging and often abused on empty-calorie foods. For example, a fortified beverage can claim ‘excellent source of vitamins’ but has 64% of your daily limit for added sugar, and gummy candies masquerading as fruit snacks can claim ‘fat free’ even though they are sugar delivery vehicles. After consulting with foremost health and nutrition experts, we decided now was the time to act.”
The criticism is a thinly veiled attack on products like Coca-Cola’s Glaceau Vitaminwater, which contains 32g of total sugars per bottle – two-thirds what consumers should get in a day – but still touts the presence of three types of vitamin, electrolytes plus various other nutrients on pack.
Stephanie Csaszar, KIND’s health and wellness expert who has inside knowledge of the petition, told FoodBev that the company wanted to advocate for greater transparency for consumers.
“Currently, the regulation focuses largely on the quantity of a singular nutrient, and it really doesn’t look at the overall nutritional quality of the food,” Csaszar told me in a call from New York. “What that means is current products in the marketplace that could have high amounts of added sugars or sodium are able to use these claims, which really puts them in a position for them to be seen as healthy. That’s the opportunity we saw; that’s what we are bringing in our proposal to the FDA.
“We actually did conduct some research with consumers as well as with health educators and what we found was that these claims were valued as part of a consumer’s purchasing decision. We had 68% say that these claims were very important to them when they make food decisions, but over half of them feel that they could be more clear.
“On the other side, with dieticians, who are educating consumers on healthy eating practices, we found that 85% of them say that they often see claims on foods that they would not recommend as part of a healthy diet. About half of them felt that the claims are not structured in a way that educates consumers on the nutritional density of a food.”
Some of KIND’s own products would fall foul of its recommendations.
KIND’s proposal gives greater precedence to products that contain “at least one health-promoting food” – that’s vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and nuts.
It would also disqualify foods with more than 25% of the daily intake for saturated fat, sodium or added sugar – or more than 1g of trans fat – from carrying nutrient content claims.
Csaszar maintained that there is still confusion among consumers that warrants greater regulatory protection, despite the widely used adage that consumers know more about their food now than at any time in history.
“We do know that consumers definitely look at front-of-pack statements, and there’s actually been quite a bit of research that the FDA has done on this – as well as other organisations – to say that consumers are not turning the packages round to look at the full nutrition panel.
“Because they’re not actually taking that extra step, it’s all the more reason for the front-of-pack statements to be very clear and concise, but also to look at that overall nutrition quality.”
KIND has form with the FDA; in 2015, the administration stopped the brand from using the word “healthy” on some of its products that exceeded the maximum quantities of total fat and saturated fat for that particular claim.
But Csaszar is clear that this week’s petition is not an attempt to get a foot up on the competition, or to repeal laws that are inconvenient for the brand.
“We are proposing tighter regulations or thresholds on saturated fat contents in products. This could mean that one of our products that contains coconut might be required to remove the low-sodium content claim that it uses on packaging. We did start thinking about this, but it was less about the impact on our portfolio and more about working with these like-minded experts.
“We do feel that if we can advocate and connect with these foremost public health experts, who agree that we need to bring more accurate and clear information on nutrition and healthy eating to consumers, then that’s what we’ll always continue to do.”
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