The New Daily

The ‘trickery’ used to deceive Australian shoppers

One sugar-loaded product claims a near-perfect health rating, but independent analysis suggests it is deceptive.

junk food

Australians should not rely on health stars. Photo: Getty

Multinational food giants are “deceiving” Australian consumers by pumping up the nutritional value of their products, some of them icons of the Aussie pantry.

Consumer advocacy group CHOICE announced the results of an analysis of breakfast foods sold by Nestlé and Kelloggs, which found evidence of “marketing trickery” and “gaming” the Health Star Rating system in products like Milo and some breakfast foods.

The findings undermine health claims on the packaging of those products, with one public health expert saying Australia’s health rating system on foods is “nonsensical” and easily exploited, and consumers are the ones being hurt by it.

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kelloggs

Kelloggs said they were in the process of changing their product labelling so the ‘example only’ rating on the side of the pack reflected the products actual rating on the front. Photo: Kelloggs

The ratings were intended to show a product’s nutritional profile and help consumers make the healthiest choices at the supermarket, but it did not always turn out that way.

Milo, which displayed a health star rating of 4.5 out of five on tins of the powdered chocolate drink, should actually be rated at 1.5, according to CHOICE.

“Nestlé calculates the Health Star Rating of Milo by assuming that Australians add three teaspoons of the mix to 200mL of skim milk,” spokesperson Tom Godfrey said.

“With 11 teaspoons of sugar per 100g, Nestlé’s 4.5-star rating on its Milo product is hard to swallow.”

Meanwhile, Kelloggs displayed “conflicting” messages to the consumer that did not clearly indicate how healthy their cereal products were. A Kelloggs spokesperson denied “gaming” the system.

Nestlé said in a statement to The New Daily the product had “long carried a recommendation that it be consumed in a glass of skim milk”.

A spokesperson denied this method was an attempt to drive up sales.

“For us, adopting the Health Star Rating scheme is not about selling more products, it’s about living up to our responsibility to help our consumers adopt a healthy and balanced diet,” the spokesperson said.

milo

The combination of three teaspoons of Milo and 200mL of skim milk was used to get a health rating of 4.5. Photo: Milo Facebook

But Deakin University Public Health Nutrition Professor Mark Lawrence questioned the overall efficiency of the system, which although not setting out to encourage deception, was manipulated by some companies.

“The underlying problem is, it is a badly flawed design and so these sort of outcomes occur when companies are exploiting a bad system and in a sense we shouldn’t be surprised,” he told The New Daily.

Consumers warned to ‘avoid the scheme’

Flaws in the Health Star Rating system could actually see people encouraged to consume more sugar, Professor Lawrence said.

Companies exploited “loopholes” to display numbers different to the actual rating.

“I think they should avoid the Health Star Rating scheme until it is fundamentally redesigned,” he said.

“Rather than band-aiding it up, they have to go back to the drawing board and redesign the system so it is a system that is complementary to the [Australian government’s] dietary guidelines.”

Restricting the system to nutritious, healthy foods – and preventing its use on junk foods – was one way.

“It is just nonsensical to be putting a health promotion message, even if it is only two or three stars, onto junk foods,” Professor Lawrence said.

Calls for Milo to remove the fine-print

milo

The chocolate powder attracts just 1.5 stars on its own. Photo: CHOICE

In lieu of widespread industry change, a campaign was launched to ‘stop Nestlé sugar-coating the truth’ and change the Milo label.

A mass email to the food and beverage company urged an “honest” and “transparent” interpretation of the system, and backed CHOICE’s efforts to report Milo to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

“A product like Milo can have multiple uses, it is not only consumed with skim milk, it can be consumed with full fat milk, light milk and many other milk products, which would change the health star rating,” Mr Godfrey said.

“It is very confusing, it is not very helpful and that is why we would like to see Milo change it.”

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  • ArghONaut

    Nestle’s main job is to sell, sell, sell. They will look at the texts of rules and use them to advantage, just like any other company. Is that surprising to anyone? The other unsurprising bit is how naive our governments are when they trust industry to do the right thing. It is more proof positive the Liberals ideology of “hands off business because we can always trust them” is 100% wrong. We can only trust them to maximise their profits however they can.

    • Very well put!

    • Malcolm

      To maximise profit you start with something bland and add sugar ,salt ,fat and water. All cheap additives that are the secret of all junk foods.

      • steppy

        This also goes for ALL the politicians we have!!

  • Rye an

    The ‘private sector’ gaming the system?
    Never!

  • very pissed off

    nestle don’t care about anything other than making profits even if they cost the public money in health care

  • Tony Peters

    I, like a lot of people, see more nutritional value in the packaging of breakfast cereals than the product itself.
    Better to cook up a small steak, an egg and some tomato to start the day.

    As to Milo, there is no grain whatsoever in the product.
    The best and healthiest chocolate drink is Cocoa, Stevia and skim milk that you make yourself.

    If sugar was banned or strongly limited, these companies would go broke.

  • GB5

    If we had governments that were keeping their eye on the ball and not in continual internecine struggles, we might get these sort of problems sorted much sooner.

  • Bruce

    I do not have a problem with sugar ! Its my lack of exercise to burn the sugar off is my problem !

    • Malcolm

      I eat extra sugar to give me the energy to move my excess weight.

      • Pam Van Effrink

        Malcolm, extra sugar is the REASON for your extra weight.

  • Mike at Old Bar

    Why is skimmed milk healthier than whole milk that has been drunk for millennia, especially in light of recent findings by qualified medical research that there is no connection between saturated fats and coronary heart disease, as touted by Monsanto and other seed oil multinationals with their flawed and now discredited research since the 1950s?

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