Misleading Fruit Content on EU Labels

Orange juice labelProduct Packaging Using Healthy Images Misleads Consumers

A recent study has shown that many products display fruit prominently on their packaging, despite having little or no actual fruit content.

A significant number of EU food and drink products are misleading consumers through the images on their packaging, according to a recent study by Freshfel, the European association for the fresh fruit and vegetable sector.

The study follows up on previous research carried out in 2010, and raises major concerns around the business practices of food operators and the way they design their food labels. They suggest that many manufacturers and suppliers are paying little more than lip service to EU regulations that are designed to ensure food labels help consumers make an informed choice in their purchasing decisions by accurately reflecting the nutritional content of their products.

Where is the Fruit?

Freshfel’s latest survey is the latest in its ongoing “Where is the fruit?” study, which seeks to analyse the fruit content of a wide range of food products that use an image of or a reference to fruit on their outer packaging. On this occasion, they investigated 188 different products, originating from 13 EU member states.

The results are undeniably shocking. A mere 20 per cent of the products examined had a fruit content of 50 per cent or more, and more than 40 per cent had a fruit content of less than ten per cent. Seven per cent of products in the study contained no fruit at all.

EU Rules

The EU has clear rules when it comes to keeping consumers informed through food labelling. Regulation 1169/2011 states that “food information shall not be misleading,” while Regulation 1924/2006 goes even further and gives specific instructions on nutrition and health claims. These include stipulations about “pictures, graphics or symbolic representations,” which give the impression that a food has particular characteristics.

It is difficult to vindicate the inconsistency between the regulations and the findings of the study, when quite clearly, some consumers might be misled into thinking they are making a healthy purchase decision on the basis of the healthy images on a food label. In particular, how can those seven percent of products studied that contain no fruit at all possibly be in compliance with EU regulations, when they have pictures of fruit on their labels?

Clearer Consumer Information

Of no less concern than the findings themselves is the fact that these results substantially mirror the results of a similar study conducted in 2010. Evidently, the issue of this type of consumer deception is an ongoing problem that is not being addressed.

Fruit and vegetables are critically important when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet, and can even help in the prevention of life threatening diseases. Clearly, more needs to be done to protect and inform consumers in this area.

One solution would be to strengthen the regulations around nutrient profiles on food labels. Under the proposed rules, a product could only use the pictorial, graphic or symbolic image of a fruit, if it contains at least 50 grams of fruit per 100 grams of the finished product, while also complying with maximum thresholds for salt, sugar and fat. As always. At Labelnet we work closely with our customers to ensure that labelling is both ethical and informative for consumers.