Freshfel commissioned a survey of 188 products from across Europe that prominently display fruit on their packaging, finding that 7% contained no fruit at all while just over a third (34%) contained between 1 and 10%. Another 34% contained between 11%-50% of fruit.
Only one fifth had 50% fruit or more, it said in a report published this year entitled Where's the Fruit?
Fifteen food categories were put under the microscope: yoghurt, yoghurt drinks, cakes, cereals bar, breakfast cereals, biscuits, sweets & candy, chocolate products, jams and spreads, ice cream, fizzy drinks and sodas, long life juices, fresh and chilled juice, smoothies, fruit and herbal teas
Freshfel was looking for evidence of fruit, dried fruit, pieces, puree, fruit or fruit juice from concentrate, fruit juice or no fruit at all.
The worst offending categories were carbonated soft drinks and confectionery. Both had the lowest number of products containing any fruit and also the highest number of products without any fruit at all.
"The findings confirm a suspicion and clearly demonstrate that in Europe, similarly to the findings in the US, too little fruit content is present in the products investigated, whilst clearly displaying fruit on their outer packaging.
"The use of attractive and colourful fruit images on packaging is commonly used to sell food products. Evidently, this can lead to consumers believing that a substantial amount of the substance alluded to (by images or statements) is actually in the product."
It’s a practice that is becoming increasingly common as manufacturers try to appeal to the growing numbers of health-conscious consumers, the Brussels-based association said.
“Consumers need truthful information when they purchase a certain product, even more so in the current environment of increasingly health-conscious consumers and rising levels of obesity," the report said.
“Some consumers might think they are making a healthy choice because of the use of healthy images such as fruits, whereas in reality they might be disappointed.”
The survey, carried out by Dutch data company Innovative Fresh, selected products from 13 EU countries which, collectively, cover 80% of the EU population: Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the UK.
Use nutrient profiles to police
In order to curb these practices, it is calling on the EU to bring in nutrient profiles that establish limits on which food and drink products can make health claims and prevent products high in salt, fat and sugar from claiming to be healthy due to, for instance, added vitamins. But despite being promised as part of 2006’s nutrition and health claims regulation, they have never been implemented.
Freshfel believes if a manufacturer wants to use a pictorial/ graphic or symbolic image of fruit, the product should contain a minimum of 50 g of fruit per 100 g of finished product, while not exceeding maximum thresholds of salt, sugar and fat.
In 2008, the European Commission published a working document on the setting of nutrient profiles which recommended exactly this - 50 g of fruit per 100 g of product - but since then the issue stalled.
The trade group also believes manufacturers to be in breach of the Food Information to Consumers regulation. It states: “Food information shall not be misleading, particularly: (a) as to the characteristics of the food and, in particular, as to its nature, identity, properties, composition, quantity, durability, [etc.]… (d) by suggesting, by means of the appearance, the description or pictorial representations, the presence of a particular food or an ingredient.”
In 2015, a German court ruled it was misleading for manufacturers to use natural pictures to depict artificial flavours.