A cereal offence – Government urged to fix food label chaos after Brexit

Which? is calling for traffic light food labelling to be made mandatory after Brexit, after an investigation into ‘adult’ breakfast cereals revealed that inconsistent packaging information risks misleading consumers about their sugar, salt and fat intake.

Many supermarket own-brands have adopted the traffic light scheme voluntarily but household names such as Kellogg’s are lagging behind, leaving consumers faced with a bewildering range of information about nutrition and portion sizes.

The consumer champion looked at a range of cereals, porridges and granolas and found they could contain more than three-quarters of the recommended daily maximum of free sugars in a portion – with the “true” sugar level not reflected on the packaging (full breakdown in notes to editors).

Consumers might also be confused by food companies changing the portion sizes on their packaging or in the case of Nestle cereals; making it even more difficult to compare with other products by including a measure of milk in the nutritional information displayed on their front of pack labelling.

Which? believes consumers would be far better served if all manufacturers used the traffic light nutrition labelling scheme, which shows whether levels of sugar, salt and fat are high, medium or low using red, amber and green traffic light colours – and is based on the amount per 100g. This would make it easier to compare across products, regardless of the portion size suggested.

Because of current European Union rules, this kind of labelling on the front of packs is only a voluntary requirement – so some manufacturers are not using it.

Which? is calling on the Government to use Brexit as an opportunity, once EU Laws are transferred to British law, to introduce legislation that makes traffic light labelling mandatory as part of an approach based on high food standards and aimed at boosting the nation’s health and well-being.

Alex Neill, Which? Managing Director of Home Products and Services, said:

“It is clear that the current, non-standardised food labelling system is at best confusing and at worst misleading. Helping people to compare at a glance how much sugar, salt and fat a product contains has proven to be an effective way of helping them to make healthier food choices.

“The Government must not miss this opportunity to use Brexit to make traffic light labelling a legal requirement, so consumers finally have clear information to make better and more informed choices.”


Examples of confusing and inconsistent food labelling:

Surprisingly high sugar

  • Of all the cereals and porridges it looked at, Which? found that Kellogg’s Frosties and Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Cornflakes contained the most sugar per 100g, with a whopping 37g and 35g each – around the same amount of sugar per 100g as Burton’s Wagon Wheels.
  • Sugar was the second or third highest ingredient in seven out of 10 flaked cereals Which? looked at. Nestle Oats and More Almond cereal contains 25g of sugar per 100g, more than two teaspoons of sugar per recommended 40g portion. The list of ingredients contains six different forms of sugar including sugar, glucose syrup and honey.
  • Even some cereals perceived to be healthy were comparatively high in sugar. Kellogg’s All-Bran contains 18g of sugar per 100g – that almost two teaspoons of sugar in a 40g serving.

Outdated guidance

  • An 82g pot of Mornflake Golden Syrup Top Porridge states it makes up a quarter (26%) of our daily sugar allowance. But this is based on old government guidance which advised that adults and children over 11 could consume up to 90g of free sugars per day.
  • The advice was changed in 2015, with the recommended maximum daily sugar intake slashed to 30g. So, according to the guidance in place for the last three years, the pot of Mornflake Porridge contains 78 per cent of what the Government says is the maximum healthy daily allowance of free sugars.
  • The confusion arises because the EU’s Food Information Regulations which do not reflect the new UK guidance – meaning manufacturers are legally obliged to base the nutritional information on their packaging on the outdated guidance.

Confusing portion sizes

  • Since 2010, Dorset Cereals has reduced its portion sizes from between 60g and 75g to 45g on both its Simply Delicious and Simply Fruity mueslis, which may lead people to believe there is less sugar than before when in fact it is the portion size that has shrunk.
  • Kellogg’s front of pack labelling gives per portion nutritional information for the cereal alone but Nestle includes the cereal plus a 125ml of semi-skimmed milk, so Nestle cereals look like they contain comparatively more sugar and fat.

Healthiest choices

  • The cereals lowest in sugar were Nestle Shredded Wheat which contained no added sugar and Weetabix Original which contained 4.4g sugar per 100g.
  • Plain porridge was also a healthy choice with Quaker Oat So Simple and Ready Brek Original Porridge both containing 1g sugar per 100g.

Notes to Editors:

  • Please click to view – Cereals-table
  • Free sugars are sugars that are added to foods and drinks such as breakfast cereals, cakes, biscuits and drinks – either by the manufacturer or at home. Sugars in honey, maple syrup, unsweetened fruit juices and smoothies also count as free sugar even though they occur naturally. This is because they’re damaging to teeth and excessive intakes can lead to weight gain.
  • Comparing the sugar content of several cereals to what they were in 2011 and 2009, many cereals contain less sugar than they did. The biggest difference is for Kellogg’s Bran Flakes, which in 2011 contained 22g per 100g but now contains a third less; 14g per 100g.
  • Dorset Cereals Simply Delicious Muesli contains a quarter less sugar than in 2011 (16.8 per 100g to 12.2g per 100g).
  • Earlier this month, the food industry failed to meet a sugar reduction targets set by the Government, according to a report by Public Health England (PHE).
  • The NHS states that more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g is high and 5g of total sugars or less per 100g is low.
  • Nutritional information of Burton’s Wagon Wheels taken from Ocado website

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