News / Children's Food Campaign

Mars's Health Ambition too low

Sustain's Children's Food Campaign, which recently argued successfully for a tax on sugary drinks, has reacted with disappointment to Mars Food's announcement on its plans around labelling and promotion.

Mars Food, which manufactures processed foods under brand names including Uncle Ben's and Dolmio, has launched an 'Ambition' to promote healthier eating. Plans include reformulating products to reduce the salt and sugar content,  and increasing the amounts of vegetable and wholegrains they contain. They also propose to use labels that will distinguish between food items intended to be eaten only occasionally, because of the high levels of unhealthy ingredients, and those deemed acceptable for everyday use.

While welcoming the recognition that manufacturers need to make much greater strides with reformulation and nutrition labelling than they have done so far, Malcolm Clark, of Sustain's Children's Food Campaign, was sceptical about the proposals:

'Mars’s commitments contain the usual weaknesses of a voluntary approach,' he said. 'There are few quantifiable targets, reformulation is only suggested for certain products, there is seemingly no connection with Public Health England’s new Eatwell Guidance, and no mention at all of changing their marketing and promotions.

'There is also a gaping hole where the Government’s obesity strategy should be. The sooner it is published, and provides a level playing field of mandatory rules on reformulation and marketing for all companies and products, the better for everyone.'

A ‘treatwise’ symbol and message has been added onto confectionery for over a decade, but Clark pointed out it that it has had little effect on consumer behaviour. 'We will have to see whether adding ‘everyday’ or ‘occasional use’ makes any difference on sauces and other cooking products. The danger is that it will just further confuse shoppers. Better would have been for Mars Food to have made a categorical statement in support of the colour-coded front-of-pack nutrition labelling system and encourage other manufacturers to put it on all of their products.'

Read more about Sustain's campaign work on food and farming here.

Published 15 Apr 2016

Children's Food Campaign: Better food and food teaching for children in schools, and protection of children from junk food marketing are the aims of Sustain's high-profile Children's Food Campaign. We also want clear food labelling that can be understood by everyone, including children.

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