Bars with dried fruit, the bin at Eataly

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Bars with red fruits, nuts, yogurt, coconut, whole grains, ‘natural ingredients,’ sources of vitamins and minerals. I wish it were always like this. The bin is around the corner, indeed on the shelf. Also at Eataly, unfortunately.

Healthy and natural foods, growing demand

Consumer focus on foods with balanced nutritional profiles-more protein and fiber, less sugar and saturated fat-is growing steadily. As shown most recently in the report of the Immagino Observatory (GS-1 Italy, Nielsen) on food consumption in Italy in 2019.

The Covid-19 phenomenon has further stimulated the demand for organic foods because of their demonstrated ability to stimulate the immune system. More generally, interest in foods presented as ‘healthy’ and/or ‘natural’ has increased.

Bars and bins

Our market survey of protein bars (2020) revealed even significant discrepancies between the claimed protein and the protein actually present in 8 out of 12 bars submitted for laboratory analysis.

The bins on the bars with dried and dried fruits, on the other hand, are already revealed at a glance. As seen in the case of Kellogg’s Special K bar ‘with red fruits’ (2018) and several others, during aspecial market survey.

The script is always the same. Unsubstantiated nutritional claims, misleading ingredient lists, captious narratives. Just enough to pass off as healthy and valuable a cue of sugars, oils and a few traces of attractive ingredients. Outlaw, as is obvious.

Red Fruits, nutritional and health claims

The Red Fruits barSomerset-branded, Super Nutty Bars line , Made in EU, on sale at Eataly — boasts on the front label some apodictic nutritional claims. ‘Source ofvitamins and antioxidants‘, ‘source of magnesium and minerals‘. What vitamins and minerals, what antioxidants?

Nutrition claims that call out the presence of micronutrients are allowed as long as the product contains a ‘significant amount‘ of micronutrients. That is, 100 g of solid food (i.e., the individually packaged portion) must contain at least 15 percent of the Reference Nutritive Value (NRV) for the individual minerals and vitamins highlighted. (1)

The amounts of vitamins and minerals must then be specified in the nutrition declaration on the label in absolute value as well as in percentage to the NRV.

In contrast, the health claim regarding the presence of ‘antioxidants’ must come authorized by the European Commission under theNutrition and Health Claims (NHC) regulation. With obligation to substantiate each claim when even it refers to a generic benefit. (2)

However, the nutritional and health claims that Somerset (GSG Italy S.r.l.) boasts on the Red Fruit bars, with additional endorsements on the back label, are unfounded and outlawed, as well as misleading, due to manifest violation of the aforementioned rules.

Fake ingredients, unknown quantities

Valuable ingredients are emphatically highlighted on the front area of the label under review:

– ‘with cranberries, whole almonds, pistachios, coconut and yogurt’,

– ‘50% nuts and fruits.

somerset bars ingredients

However, the ingredient list reveals the falsity of any reference to quality and quantity of components of actual value:

– is designated as ‘yogurt‘ an amalgam of sugar, coconut oil, whey, ‘yogurt powder 2%‘ and a couple of additives. False,

– the ‘dried cranberries‘ in turn turn turn out mixed with sugar, sunflower oil, citric acid and concentrated elderberry juice. False. And the actual amount of blueberries in the mix is unknown, so much for the QUID(Quantity of Ingredients Declaration) rule,

– ‘puffed rice’ in turn contains sugar, without specifying the share of rice,

– the claim ‘50% nuts and fruit‘ is belied by the absence of nuts in the ingredient list.

Allergens and food safety

Allergens listed as potentially present in Somerset bars are indicated with the unacceptable, generic reference to ‘nuts.’ Rather than, as required and clarified in the European Commission Guidelines (2017), by express citation of the individual allergenic matrices that belong to that category.

Therefore, the product in question qualifies as ‘unsafe food‘ under the General Food Law. (3) And it should be subjected to immediate withdrawal from the market, with notification to the competent health authority, as seriously dangerous to allergic consumers who might be confused by such a generic claim, all the more so as it is doubtful.

The great deception

Violations of the specific rules on consumer information on food products (EU Reg. 1169/11) and Nutrition & Health Claims (EC Reg. 1924/06) are subject to official public controls and sanctions by ICQRF and Local Health Authorities (LHAs), respectively.

Grand deception about selling a product with lower features and values than promised could also take on criminal significance. Indeed, the Criminal Code punishes the sale of aliud pro alio with the crime of trade fraud (Article 515 of the Criminal Code).

The Competition and Market Authority (AGCM, so-called Antitrust Authority) could in turn assess the deceptiveness of the commercial practice, in violation of the Consumer Code. (4) Taking into account not only violations of the aforementioned specific standards, but also the communication as a whole. As suitable for presenting as ‘healthy’ and ‘natural‘ an ultra-processed food that instead qualifies as HFSS(High in Fats, Sugar and Sodium), or junk food. With particular regard to the high content of simple sugars (45%).

For further study, reference is made to our free ebook1169 Penalties. Reg. EU 1169/11. Food news, inspections and penalties‘.

Dario Dongo

Notes

(1) Reg. EC 1924/06, Annex. Reg. EU 1169/11, Annex XIII Part A

(2) Reg. EC 1924/06, Articles 10, 13, 14. See also reg. EU 432/12 as amended

(3) Reg. EC 178/02, Article 14

(4) Legislative Decree. 206/05

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.