Three teaspoons of sugar in a small snack for toddlers was not a concern, a dietician for food manufacturer Heinz has told the Federal Court.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) launched legal action against the food giant over nutritional claims on its Little Kids Shredz range, which contains more than 60 per cent sugar.
The watchdog has accused Heinz of deliberately misleading the public over the nutritional value of the snack bars through images of fresh produce on the packaging next to the words “99 per cent fruit and veg”.
On the third day of the hearing in the Federal Court in Adelaide, Heinz dietician Christine Weaver said the high level of sugar in the products was not a concern.
“That sugar was coming from naturally occurring fruit and vegetables,” she said.
Each box of Shredz, which were available from 2013 but have since been taken off the shelves, contained five individual packets of the fruit bars.
Counsel representing the ACCC, Tom Duggan SC, told the court there was the equivalent of three teaspoons of sugar in each 18 gram packet.
Ms Weaver told the court she thought that was an acceptable amount of sugar for a toddler snack because it was “portion-controlled”.
“Twelve grams per serve is representative of a lot of other snack food for a toddler,” she said.
“If it was a bigger portion size and wasn’t portion controlled, I would have been more concerned.”
Fruit juice concentrate provided nutrients
Ms Weaver was questioned over Heinz’s use of fruit juice concentrate, which she said at the time of the product’s development in 2012 was not considered an added sugar under the national dietary guidelines.
“At the time when I was assessing … I wasn’t concerned about the concentrated fruit juice within it,” she said.
“I saw that as one of the [things] making up the fruit component of the product which provides additional nutrients.”
The court heard the national guidelines were updated in 2013 to categorise fruit juice concentrate as an added sugar.
Ms Weaver said while she and other staff tried the product for testing purposes, there was not a formal process in place for the impact on toddler’s teeth to be assessed.
“I think it is sufficient that only adults try them,” she said.
“I’m a parent, I think you take in the experience, not only as a dietician but as a parent.”
She rejected claims by Mr Duggan that the products were chewy, sticky on teeth, very sweet and had the texture of a jube or other confectionery.
“I don’t think it’s very sweet,” Ms Weaver said.
“I think they have a pleasant sweet flavour that comes from the fruit and vegetables in them.”
The hearing before Justice Richard White continues.