The manufacturer behind household-name food brands such as Dolmio and Uncle Ben’s, Mars Food, has decided to include consumer guidance on its packaging on which of its products can be consumed ‘everyday’ and which only ‘occasionally.’
In order to help consumers make healthier food choices, the food company will over the next months update its food labels and website with a list of occasional” products – those to be enjoyed once per week – and the list of everyday products.
“To maintain the authentic nature of the recipe, some Mars Food products are higher in salt, added sugar or fat. As these products are not intended to be eaten daily, Mars Food will provide guidance to consumers on-pack and on its website regarding how often these meal offerings should be consumed within a balanced diet,” the company said in a statement.
The company will also inform customers which of its products will be reformulated to reduce salt, sugar, or fat.
Overall, Mars Food wants to reduce the amount of salt in its products by 20% by 2021. Sugar will be reduced in a limited number of sauces and light meals by 2018.
In addition, the company plans to ensure that all tomato-based jar products include a minimum of one serving of vegetables.
Headquartered in Brussels, Mars Food is one of the largest global food companies and owns brands such as Wrigley’s, Dolmio, Miracoli, Uncle Ben’s, M&M’s, Maltesers and Snickers.
The announcement by Mars Food on reformulating products to make them healthier, as well as openly telling consumers to only consume their products ‘in moderation’, is becoming a wider trend within the food and drinks sector.
For example, the European Snacks Association, which represents producers of savoury snacks, crisps, and nuts, writes on its website that though their products are “tasty, convenient and fun”, they should “be regarded as treats that are consumed in moderation.”
The European spirits and beer industries also openly advice that alcohol should only be consumed in moderation by healthy adults.
As part of its priorities for public health in the EU, the current Dutch presidency hosted a conference in February on food product improvement.
Representatives from EU member states, the European Commission, the food industry, NGOs and international bodies such as the World Health Organisation discussed how to take product reformulation to the next level in the EU.
A roadmap for action was signed by the food industry, FoodDrinkEurope, as well as associations in the food chain, but notably not by some member states, including the UK, Germany, France and Italy.
Chris Daly, chief executive at The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), commented on EURACTIV.com's story:
"Mars Food announcing that it will put a 'once a week' or ‘occasional’ consumption health warning on products is a positive example of an ethical marketing decision in response to consumer demand. This bold move not only shows that they understand the health issues surrounding the salt, fat and sugar content of their product, but also that they have listened to their customers who want more honesty in food labelling when planning a balanced diet to possibly include the occasional indulgence," Daly said.
"Given the recent concerns over sugar and salt, Mars Food's decision to clearly mark products that are not intended to be eaten daily is a significant step in the right direction, and they should be congratulated for taking this customer-centric approach. Good marketing allows consumers to make informed purchasing decisions – empowering them and giving them confidence while also building and maintaining trust in the brand," he added.
The European Commission said in January that it wants to achieve a minimum of 10% reduction of added sugars by 2020 in average in the EU and across the different food categories, in order to combat, among other things, child obesity.
- 18 April: Informal meeting of EU health ministers in Amsterdam.