Friday, 8 June 2012

Marketing Uncovered: Food Labels

Image credit: Ralf Roletschek
In the latest instalment of Marketing Uncovered articles, I decided to explore some of the ethics around food labelling and advertising claims.

Here, as always, is a run down of my pet hate marketing phrases, together with what I think they really mean.

No added sugar
This just means that the product hasn't been sweetened with sugar. But if it's a sweet product, and it's a processed food (eg. a soft drink), then it has to get its sweetness from somewhere. Sometimes manufacturers use fruit juice concentrate, which is really a sneaky way to use fruit sugar instead of normal sugar. However, for the most part, I find that "no added sugar" usually means "contains artificial sweeteners". Also, because sugar is a natural preservative, removing it can mean that products like soft drinks need stronger artificial preservatives to compensate. So "no added sugar" doesn't necessarily mean "better for you".

Real ingredients
This doesn't necessarily mean you're eating a hand-made product, or one that only uses natural ingredients. Going from the products I've seen using this claim, it currently seems to mean that natural or close to natural ingredients are used. This might include "nature identical" ingredients, for example, a strawberry flavour that is made in a factory, but is almost identical to the natural substance in real strawberries. But as I haven't been able to find an official definition of "real ingredients", it's really anyone's guess as to how tomorrow's products will use this phrase.

85% Fat Free
Regular readers will have already worked this one out. It means that the product contains 15% fat. In other words, when you look at the nutrition information on the back of the pack, you will see that there is 15g of fat per 100g - fairly high. Thankfully, recent industry changes in the UK mean that there are now controls over the use of phrases like "fat free". But it still serves as a useful illustration.

In case you haven't guessed, I'm the one in the supermarket looking at ingredient labels. At least they have tight regulation, and they have to disclose most (but not all) of the contents. I find it a great way to dispel the marketing spin, but only if I have one of those rare ingredients: time!

Image: Bilder im Supermarkt by Ralf Roletschek, CC-BY-SA licence, obtained via Wikimedia Commons.

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