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Food labelling discrepancies and nutrition-savvy customers

High protein diets were once exclusive to Cross-Fitters, bodybuilders and avid gym-goers. However, today’s supermarket shelves are packed with products touting high levels of this once-elusive macronutrient. In fact, cereal, bagels, yoghurts, and even tomato ketchup are jumping on the high-protein bandwagon. Here, Miguel Campos, export sales manager for global packaging company, Advanta, explores the trend of inaccuracies in food labelling and what this means for the consumer.

Several supermarkets have already introduced dedicated high-protein sections in their stores, often including new versions of existing products boasting a higher protein level and usually, a higher price tag. However, critics suggest that these claims are often misleading. Take breakfast favourite, wheat biscuits, as an example. Two regular biscuits from a market leading brand provide a total of 4.5 grams of protein per serving — the company’s high-protein version offers just 7.6 grams.

While the new product does offer higher levels of protein than the original, in the context of other high-protein foods, this figure isn’t particularly impressive. For instance, adding 200ml of full-fat milk to the original cereal would provide nine additional grams of protein, trumping the extra 3.1 grams offered by the new version.

Naturally, food manufacturers are simply responding to consumer demand, but the questionable claims of high-protein contents haven’t gone unnoticed by consumers. What’s more, looking to the past, this is not a new scenario. Back in 2013, researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published a report that identified the calorie counts of several mainstream snack foods were almost always higher than the label stated.

This led to the revelation that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows for a 20 per cent discrepancy in the accuracy of calorie counts listed on package labels. As a result, customers became warier of food labelling claims. Today, we’re experiencing the same phenomenon with protein. The FDA states that protein content labelling must reflect the content from actual protein sources — not other nitrogen-containing ingredients, such as individual amino acids. Similarly, the European Commission requires that in order to claim that a food is high in protein, at least 20 per cent of the energy value of the food must be provided by protein.

Regulations for food labelling are clear. While subtle marketing will always have a place on the supermarket shelves, manufacturers should be conscious that today’s consumers are more nutritionally-savvy than ever before.Admittedly, some consumers may happily part with their cash to get their hands on those extra few grams of protein. However, before branding the latest diet trend on product labelling, manufacturers should ensure their food truly delivers this level of nutrition.

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