Misleading advertising?Posted: October 22, 2007
The other morning I was trying a new breakfast cereal, Kellogg mini-wheats, and the sweetness of these struck me. Shredded wheat cereal usually isn’t sweet, for those who are not aware. So I started looking at the box and reading the nutrition information. Before I go on I’ll explain this strange consumer behaviour.
Having a daughter who is allergic to milk has got me into the habit of reading food labels for the past 15 years. I guess it’s probably not typical, and I know the food companies are resistant to adding nutrition information to their product given their usual complaints but not many people would regularly read the “nutrition information” panel on the sides of cereal boxes. I’m usually looking for how the company has hidden milk protein into their product for usually a totally obscure reason. When I look for my own reasons I generally use the “quantity per 100gm” to give me a rough percentage on the amount of sugar, fat and protein for how healthy the food is.
So, back to our new cereal. Kellogg have now now decided to supplement this with a new ‘easy’ and much larger header on the box. Here’s the one from the box I had.
The large percentages catch your eye initially and the 3.9% Total Sugars looks pretty good. However this was clashing with the story from my taste buds so I decided to read the fine print and noticed the percentage was for a ‘Daily Intake’. I’ll bet my last dollar your daily intake requirement is different from mine and quite different from our kids. Furthermore I’m sure you are like me and don’t weigh food. Evidently the serving is 40gm, however much that is? Turning over the box we find the ‘explanation’ on the back.
Evidently this is based on an average adult diet of 8700kJ. Now apart from the fact this is useless for anyone other than an adult, it’s a figure for a what sort of active person? Getting the source of this figure is like pulling chickens teeth and the best I have ever found is that it goes back to the 1950’s when the military needed to know how much to feed soldiers. Does it bear any relationship to what someone sitting in a office needs today? Probably not. I’d love to see the support for it. But one thing for sure I’d say it doesn’t apply to a kid who doesn’t play sport apart from on the Playstation, which these days is a lot more kids than it should be.
But hey, it does say ‘moderate your intake’ for the sugar and fat. Jeez Sherlock, would never have guessed that.
So we wander onto the panel that they legally have to supply and it starts telling a different story.
Looking at the ‘quantity per 100g’ column we see the percentage sugar is actually 8.8%.
On the front of the box the percentage for carbs and protein are show as 9% and 8.8%, however this is part of the total daily intake, which is rather misleading because the actual ratio in the product is 11.3% and 68.1%. Your daily requirements and this ratio will depend on how much exercise you do.
At least we see the serve is a miserly 3/4 of a cup!
In my opinion what this means is that you will be eating more carbs and hence more calories than you imagine. Furthermore Kellogg have gone with a new system that no-one else supports so you can’t really use it for all your food intake unless you decide to eat only breakfast cereal and bars. Their website also conveys the we care image, and don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the nutritionists in Kellogg do care, however I don’t envy their constant battle with the advertisers who are trying to sell a constructed and misleading image. Other companies do worse, a lot worse. However my final point is this:
If we were honest about nutrition, our cereal boxes would reflect how the product is used, the actual, larger serving size most people use and highlight the balance in nutrients, not just redefine them to make things look better. We would also have more adverts promoting healthier cereals such as oats and muesli during kids prime time and not the junk that is usually shown.
In the next article I’ll show you the ‘new figures’ for Fruit Loops, that perennial favourite targets by real men working out in the field going by the fact it too is based on the average adult diet.