Australian confectionery industry rejects claims it is snubbing star labeling

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

Australian confectionery industry says star system neglect is ‘disingenuous’ as it agreed an exception with government Photo: Australian Department of Health
Australian confectionery industry says star system neglect is ‘disingenuous’ as it agreed an exception with government Photo: Australian Department of Health

Related tags Health Australia Nutrition

The AI Group has disputed claims from consumer group CHOICE that its confectionery members are ignoring the country’s health star labeling system.

The industry body - whose members include Mars and Mondelēz – said an agreement had been struck with the Federal Government's Health Star Rating Committee that Australia’s Heath Star Ratings (HSR) system does not apply to the confectionery industry.

Tim Piper, head of the confectionery sector at the Australian Industry Group, said to therefore criticize the confectionery industry is “totally inappropriate” and “disingenuous”. ​He added that the HSR committee had agreed that the system would be up for review in 2019.

CHOICE calls on all companies to use stars

Consumer group CHOICE last week called on all companies that have not yet adopted HSRs - such as Mars, Mondelēz and Goodman Fielder - to embrace the system.

It also accused some industries of “manipulating the measurement of health implications”​ in the HSR system after commissioning research​ on its impact. [Study findings in fact box below]

be treatwise
AI Group agreed with government that it's Be Treatwise label could appear front of pack for confectionery products rather than the full star labeling system. Photo: AI Group

The confectionery exception

The government-backed HSR system​ is a voluntary front of pack labeling initiative introduced two years ago. Around 3,000 products now feature star labeling, according to the Australian government. In 2013, the government agreed some exemptions for the program, such infant nutrition products.

The AI Group also agreed with the government’s health star committee that confectionery need not display the stars and could have the Energy % daily intake icon only with the group’s Be Treatwise​ messaging front of pack.

CHOICE Study Findings

consumer tests - Terminator3D

Survey of 1,640 people across Australia and New Zealand.

  • 76% of Australians refer to the star system when shopping
  • 74% of Australians say HSRs help them maker healthier choices; Three in four think they should be mandatory
  • Those earning less than A$50,000 per year less likely to have seen HSRs than those earning more than A$100,000  
  • 79% of Australians want to see more HSRs on products

‘Health halo’ claims

CHOICE said there were some anomalies undermining the system and creating “health halos”​  for those confectionery products using star labeling.

It said that chocolate, sugar confectionery and potato chips were sometimes achieving high star ratings despite being high in sugar, salt or saturated fat.

For example, it said some licorice products had received 2.5 stars, while some potato chips had a rating of four.

“If nutrient-poor foods continue to score high HSRs, consumer confidence in the system will decline,”​ it said in its research report.

The consumer group says there is strong consumer support for star labelling to be mandatory. It is also calling for added sugars to be listed rather than total sugars.

Consumers understand Be Treatwise, says AI Group

The AI Group said in a release that its confectionery members consider its products treats to be consumed in moderation and said all major Australian confectionery players have adopted the group’s Be Treatwise consumer program.
"Be Treatwise has a high recognition and consumer understanding which complements the HSR and helps develop better dietary habits through an understanding of treats,"​ said Piper.

CHOICE candy test

star labels - BernardaSv

Consumer group CHOICE divided respondents into three groups and presented them with a packet of the Natural Confectionery Company’s Snakes brand.

It said this product was chosen because “it is a confectionery food with the potential of leading people into believing it is a healthier choice due to the natural reference in its title”.

One group saw a pack without an HSR, while another saw a packet with half a star and the third saw a pack with 3 stars. The group that saw the pack with a half star were likelier to think it was unhealthy compared to the group that saw it without an HSR. Those that saw three stars were likelier to think the product was quite healthy compared to the other groups.

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