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Where’s the Fruit?

One of the reasons that we can’t seem to get consumption of produce to rise may be that consumers sometimes think they are eating produce, specifically that their children are eating produce, when they are not. That is our take from a recent study unveiled by The Strategic Alliance for Healthy Food and Activity Environments, a coalition of nutrition and physical activity advocates in California. The study finds that many products that liberally use the word fruit — or the names of fruits or photos of fruit on their packaging — in fact don’t contain any fruit. Here is the release:

Study Unveils Widespread Deceptive
Packaging in Children’s Foods

Oakland, CA — January 26, 2007…Over half of the most aggressively advertised children’s foods that prominently feature fruit on their packaging contain no fruit at all, according to a study released today by the Strategic Alliance for Healthy Food and Activity Environments. The study, Where’s the Fruit?, reveals that 51 percent of these products do not contain fruit, and another 16 percent contain only minimal amounts of fruit — despite prominent fruit promotions on the packaging.

“Parents drawn to products that seem healthier for their children based on references to fruit on the packaging are being deceived,” explains Leslie Mikkelsen, a registered dietician with the Strategic Alliance and lead author of the study. “Food and beverage companies are some of the most sophisticated communicators in the world and are clearly capable of accurately reflecting what is in their products if they wanted to.”

Where’s the Fruit? identifies the most heavily advertised children’s food products that include words and images of fruit and/or fruit ingredients on the packaging. A total of 37 products were included in the final study, and their ingredient lists were analyzed to determine the presence of fruit ingredients.

Nineteen (51 percent) of the products contained no fruit ingredients at all despite the images of fruits and use of words such as “fruity,” “fruit flavors” and “berry” on the packaging.

“One of the biggest surprises was Yoplait’s Strawberry Splash Go-Gurt Yogurt, which does not contain any actual fruit,” said Mikkelsen. “Yogurt is regarded by most people as being healthy, and one would naturally expect Strawberry Splash-flavored yogurt to contain strawberries, particularly when it is a food product advertised directly to children.”

Berry Berry Kix is another product that, despite fruit images and reference to “natural fruit flavors,” contains no fruit.

“My kids love fruit,” says Luz Maria Rodriguez, a parent in Sacramento. “It’s pretty hard to explain to an excited five-year-old in a supermarket why they can’t have the package with the strawberry on it when I’ve been encouraging them to eat strawberries at home.”

Only 27 percent of the products examined contained fruit (in the form of fruit puree or fruit from concentrate). Six percent were 100 percent fruit juice; however fruit juice does not contain the equivalent fiber, vitamins and minerals of whole fruit.

“The nation is facing a staggering epidemic of chronic diseases that result from poor eating and physical inactivity,” cautions Dr. Andria Ruth, a pediatrician for the Diabetes Resource Center of Santa Barbara. “Children are particularly affected and these food companies are making parents’ jobs even harder by using misleading packaging to lead them to think that they are making a healthy choice when they are not.’

To support healthy eating habits, the Strategic Alliance is calling on food manufacturers to stop marketing children’s food products as something that they are not and to begin providing more nutritious food options. The Strategic Alliance has prepared “Setting the Bar: Actions to Improve Food and Beverage Offerings” to guide food companies in their marketing ethics. The Strategic Alliance insists that at a minimum, if companies put fruit on the label, there should be fruit in the product.

The Strategic Alliance for Healthy Food and Activity Environments is a coalition of California’s leading public health and health care, parks and recreation, transportation and nutrition organizations committed to promoting environmental and policy changes to support healthy eating and physical activity. Current Steering Committee members are: California Adolescent Nutrition and Fitness Program (CANFit), California Center for Public Health Advocacy, California Food Policy Advocates, California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, California Parks and Recreation Society, California Project LEAN, California WIC Association, Child Care Food Program Roundtable, Latino Health Access, Prevention Institute, Samuels & Associates and YMCA of the East Bay.

The Pundit is not a big fan of the organization. It proclaims its purpose to be “…reframing the debate on nutrition and physical activity away from a focus on individual choice and lifestyle towards one of environment and corporate and government responsibility.” And the Pundit believes we need more individual responsibility, not less.

Still, on this issue, these folks are in the right — precisely because if people are to exercise personal responsibility, they can’t be defrauded. It is a reasonable consumer expectation that a product named Yoplait’s Strawberry Splash Go-Gurt Yogurthas strawberries in it.

This is a place where industry-government relations efforts can be productively employed. There are many laws that prevent people from selling products that might be confusing to consumers. Wolfgang Puck got into trouble trying to sell frozen versions of his trademark pizzas. Why? Because it is illegal to call a packaged good a pizza if it doesn’t contain cheese!

The Pundit thinks we should look at a “truth in packaging” law that prevents this kind of consumer deception.

You can read the whole study here.

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