A watchdog has taken aim at food companies over health-related claims made on packaging.

Consumer New Zealand's annual Bad Taste Food Awards names 10 products with promises that might not be "all they're cracked up to be".

They're mostly household names from some of our best-known businesses.

But one manufacturer has hit back, saying Consumer has got in a muddle over the item it's criticising.

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Consumer describes itself as an "independent, non-profit organisation dedicated to getting New Zealanders a fairer deal".

In an article published on its website today, it says:

"Supermarket shelves are chock-a-block with products claiming to have 'no added sugar', be 'low in fat' and oozing veges, wholegrains, protein, vitamins and minerals. But take a closer look and you might discover they're not all they're cracked up to be.

"Food manufacturers use all manner of claims to convince us their products are better choices than they really are. Our annual Bad Taste Food Awards highlight products that really take the cake. Thanks to everyone who sent in nominations. This year, we were spoilt for choice."

Consumer NZ head of research Jessica Wilson said this year's Bad Taste "winners" included products claiming to be 'wholesome' or 'nutritious', despite being more than 20 per cent sugar.

'Low fat', 'naturally sweetened' and 'whole grain' claims also featured on sugary foods, Consumer said.

Consumer NZ's Jessica Wilson said this year's Bad Taste 'winners' include products that are more than 20 per cent sugar. Photo / Supplied
Consumer NZ's Jessica Wilson said this year's Bad Taste 'winners' include products that are more than 20 per cent sugar. Photo / Supplied

Here are the 10 products named by Consumer, and what it says about them.

1. Nestle Milo Duo: The label claims this cereal provides "energy + calcium", "vitamin D for growing bones" and is "whole grain guaranteed". But check the ingredients list and you'll discover sugar is the second largest ingredient. All up, this cereal is nearly 28 per cent sugar.

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2. Freedom Foods XO Crunch: Freedom Foods boasts its cereal is made "with the goodness of 3 grains", is "low fat", a "source of fibre" and a "fun and nutritious way to start your kids' day". However, this "nutritious" cereal is also 22 per cent sugar.

3. I Love Breakfast Cocoa Magic Crunch: The box claims this cereal contains "no refined sugar" and is "naturally sweetened with the goodness of dates". What's not to like? "Unrefined sugar" is the second largest ingredient – ahead of the 4.5 per cent date puree. The cereal's total sugar content is 25 per cent.

4. Countdown's Instant Drinking Chocolate: Countdown's drinking chocolate features a 4-star health rating and boasts it contains "no artificial colours, flavours, or preservatives". However, the nutrition information panel reveals this product is 62 per cent sugar.

5. Maggi 2 Minute Noodles Chicken Flavour: These noodles brag they're "made with wholegrain" and are "99% fat free". But one serving contains 935mg of sodium. That's almost half the 2000mg daily limit suggested for an adult.

6. Tasti Fruit and Nut Snak Logs: Tasti claims its snack bars are "wholesome" and "Nature's Power Pack". But they contain five different sweeteners – sugar, brown sugar, glucose, honey and apple juice concentrate. With the added sweetness from dried fruit, these bars are 38 per cent sugar.

7. Fry's Turkish Delight: The pack boasts this chocolate bar contains "60% less fat" than other major chocolate brands. Impressed? You shouldn't be. It's also 51.8 per cent sugar – on par with other bars – and nearly 5 per cent saturated fat.

8. Horleys Protein 33 Chocolate Fudge Flavour Energy Bar: Horleys highlights the 20g of protein in its energy bar, promising it will deliver "muscle fuel". But this protein hit comes with 20g of sugar, five teaspoons in every bar.

9. Mammoth Supply Co's Iced Original Coffee: Mammoth's flavoured milk boasts it contains 45g of protein and "the fuel you need to crush any task". But in each 600ml bottle, you'll also get three teaspoons of added sugar.

10. Primo Sublime Lime: Another flavoured milk, Primo claims to be "eternal happiness, world peace & divine flavour" in a bottle. Like Mammoth, it comes with three teaspoons of added sugar in every 600ml bottle.

Numbers one and five on the list are made by global giant Nestle. The last two are under the Fonterra umbrella. Turkish Delight is made by Cadbury. The others are, their websites suggest, made by standalone businesses, some based here, others multinational.

The Herald has this morning approached every manufacturer for comment.

Two had replied at time of publication.

Countdown said: "Hi, We won't be able to meet your deadline. Sorry."

Nestle's Australia-based communications team sent a detailed response which said:

"Milo Duo Cereal: We've systematically renovated our cereal range to increase wholegrain and fibre, reduce saturated fat, and reduce sugar and sodium. However as people choose chocolate-flavoured cereals for taste, there comes a point where you can't reduce sugar without significantly affecting the flavour. As dietitians generally agree, foods should be assessed as a whole, rather than looking at one nutrient in isolation. We've focused on making the overall cereal healthier while keeping the taste people like. This cereal compares favourably to both nutritional guidelines, and competitor products.

"Maggi 2 Minute Noodles Chicken Flavour: – I think [Consumer] have confused two products. Maggi 2 Minute Noodles Chicken Flavour is, like most noodles on the market, fried and not made with wholegrain. It does not have the information on pack that is claimed here. Maggi 2 Minute Noodles Chicken Flavour with Wholegrain has been made with wholegrain and is baked not fried. As a result, this product has considerably less fat than competitor products. While sodium levels in this product are at the lower end compared to others in the category, we are continuing to work on sodium reduction in this range."

By Monday morning, responses came in from Horley and Fonterra.

Horley: As mentioned in the name, this product is an energy bar, with the major contribution of energy coming from protein and carbohydrates.

This product is intended to be used by consumers as a snack for fueling sports, endurance events, or other forms of exercise where carbohydrates in the form of sugars are needed to provide readily available energy for muscles. With 20g of protein, this product is an excellent post exercise muscle recovery snack too.

If consumers are requiring lower carbohydrates in their snacks, we have Horleys Protein 33 Low Carb Double Chocolate Fudge Bar, which has only 0.5g sugar per bar, and still the 20g of protein per bar.

Mammoth Supply Co's Iced Original Coffee and Primo Sublime Lime:

Director Marketing at Fonterra Brands New Zealand, Mike Boness says: "We take great care in making sure we label our products clearly and that they reflect the brands our consumers have grown to know and love.

"Over the last 18 months we've been steadily reducing the added sugar in our products (this includes Primo and Mammoth) and we're now putting 600 tonnes less added sugar into our products each year. And we're not stopping there.

"We're doing this because Healthy People and providing valuable nutrition are a key part of our new strategy, and our business is doing everything we can to make it happen."

Freedom Foods Group Limited

"Freedom Foods have a range of cereal products in our portfolio with varying nutritional profiles and Health Star Ratings (HSR) providing a wide range of options for consumers.

A HSR is based on the balance of positive and negative nutrients calculated on the HSR government website calculator. Freedom Foods Group does not award a HSR result independently. The HSR of 4 for XO Crunch is based on the healthy ingredients it contains (grains, psyllium husks, and chickpea fibre) balanced with nutrients we should limit (added sugar, fat and sodium). We voluntarily place the HSR on pack to inform consumers where XO Crunch sits compared to 'like' breakfast cereal products.

Freedom Foods values all customer feedback, including feedback from CHOICE, as we are continually reviewing the nutritional profile of all products as part of our company's mission of Making Food Better."

The Herald will add responses from other manufacturers as they arrive.

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