Mars Food plans to begin distinguishing between its products which are fit for “everyday” versus “occasional” consumption. Over the next few months, the company is expected to publish a list of products which should not be eaten more than once per week due to higher salt, sugar and/or fat content. The list will appear on the company’s website, and the list items’ packaging will bear a label in stores in the United Kingdom.
A Mars spokesperson told BBC that the company is considering all of the ingredients that would go into making a complete meal using the product, rather than just the Mars’ sauce by itself, for example, when deciding which products should be limited to “occasional” consumption. The company also said that its nutrition criteria were developed based on recommendations from public health authorities such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.K. Food Standards Agency. However, Mars suggested that some foods are higher in salt, sugar or fat to maintain the “authentic” taste of the products.
“We're holding ourselves to a much higher standard... which will lead us to further reducing sodium across our global product portfolio by an average of 20% by 2021 and added sugar in a limited number of sauces and light meals by 2018,” said Fiona Dawson, Mars Food’s Global President of Food, Drinks and Multisales.
Products such as Dolmio lasagne meal kits, lasagne sauces, pesto, and carbonara and macaroni oven bake kits, as well as Uncle Ben’s oriental sauces, are expected to be classified as “occasional” items. The plan does not extend to Mars’ chocolate or sweets businesses, whose brands include M&M’s, Snickers and Starburst.
“While we have some work to do, 70% of our tomato-based Dolmio jar products already meet this 'everyday' standard,” Dawson added.
“Our guidance to consumers on everyday and occasional meals is a key element of our ambition, as 95% of our product portfolio will fall into the 'everyday' category and 5% of our product portfolio will receive an 'occasional' label in the coming years, much of which will still go through some amount of reformulation to be made healthier.”
The UK government is expected to release a childhood obesity strategy later this year. The recent announcement that a tax on sugary beverages will take effect in 2 years’ time has led to some speculation that the government may no longer stand for a voluntary approach to obesity management in the food industry.
Nutritionist Jenny Rosborough from Action on Sugar said to BBC, “It's great that they are pushing forward this responsible labelling and raising awareness.
“But the challenge we have with it is that only the health conscious will look at the labels in the first place, therefore it's not going to hit the people who need it the most.”
Changes to the products themselves may be more important than labeling, and companies such as Kraft Heinz have proven that you can improve the health of your products without sacrificing their taste.
As part of Mars' commitment to improving its products, the company also plans to expand its nutrition criteria to include goals for increasing the amount of whole grains, fiber, fruit and vegetables in its products by the end of 2016. For example, Mars plans for 50 percent of its rice products to include legumes or whole grains, as well as ensure that all tomato-based jar products include at least one serving of vegetables.
Mars also recently committed to remove all artificial colors from its food portfolio, including its chocolate, gum, confection, food and drink businesses, and to label its products which contain genetically modified ingredients, nationwide in the U.S.