Campaign group Action on Sugar reveals the results of 272 sweet spreads which show how hazelnut spreads, jams and marmalades, often deliberately marketed towards children, are packed with sugar – and in some cases contain more sugar than nuts.
The new UK survey finds that some chocolate nut spreads contain 57 teaspoons of sugar per jar which is four times more sugar than nuts, and that two slices of bread with chocolate spread contain 24g of sugar which is the entire daily maximum recommended intake.
Some of the highest sugar contents include the UK’s top retailers like Tesco, Asda, Lidl, Morrisons and Waitrose as well as brands such as Cadbury’s and Nutella.
Sweet spreads are one of the top 10 contributors of sugar intake in children in the UK, yet most products surveyed would receive red front of pack labeling, according to Action on Sugar.
Following the survey – which was carried out as part of Queen Mary University of London research – Action on Sugar is urging people to cut down on these kinds of high sugar spreads, definitely not eat them on a daily basis and is urging the British government to take much tougher action on meeting the 2020 sugar reduction targets.
The group believes that penalties should apply to those companies who fail to comply.
Speaking with FoodIngredientsFirst registered nutritionist Kawther Hashem, researcher at Action on Sugar, explains what the government could do to ensure excessive levels of sugar are not added to spreads.
“Perhaps we should be looking at a levy like the sugar levy that has been applied with drinks. To have something where if a company has exceeded certain levels and has not committed and your products are relatively high compared to the market, then you should pay a levy on the volume of that product that you are selling – that could be an option,” she says.
“We’ve also thought that another option is to have some sort of label on packs, like in the US where they have the warning labels on high sugar content, then perhaps to have something similar for products that do not comply with the recommendations from government.”
“There are other suggestions I’m sure but at the moment it’s very important that companies do try to work with Public Health England to reduce the amount of sugar particularly in those ten categories that contribute the most to sugar in children’s diets in the UK.”
Hashem also says how there needs to be a workable and effective policy that will lead to actual change.
“There needs to be some sort of push for companies otherwise this will end up being just like all the other policies that have been applied that are not that effective because they are voluntary and there is no repercussions for companies that don’t comply,” she tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
She also talks about how some companies use misleading marketing aimed at children and how the average consumer/parent does not necessarily realize just how much sugar certain spreads contain.
“Generally speaking, I don’t think consumers or parents do realize; to have a 20g – although some recommendations are for a 15g serving – serving that contains three teaspoons of sugar – I didn’t realize that myself until this piece of work and I think people will be very surprised by it,” she adds.
“They may think the chocolate spread is high, but when it is called a hazelnut spread then maybe they think that it’s not as high because it’s more nut-based rather than sugar. How these products are advertised can actually be quite misleading. Some are marketed as a family, wholesome food with cocoa and nuts, when actually that is not the bulk of the product, it’s actually sugar and palm oil.”
“Marketing plays a key role in what people’s information about these products. There are options with lower sugar if people want them. They may not be as accessible but they certainly available – they may have to go to the bigger stores to find them but there are businesses trying to create an alternatives.”
More than two-thirds of the 38 chocolate spreads surveyed contained over 10g sugar per serving (20g) – with the most well-known brands containing three of a child’s five maximum daily teaspoons of sugar – that is more than half their maximum intake.
As sweet spreads are one of the top 10 contributors of sugar intake in children in the UK, they are included as part of Public Health England’s sugar reduction program which has set an average target of 43.8g/100g of sugar for chocolate spreads and 34.6g/100g for fruit spreads (announced 30th March 2017).
Eaten over the duration of a week – two slices every day for seven days – that is 168g of sugar.
“The fact that there are products that contain 20% to 30% less sugar that means other options already exist on the market, its technology possible,” adds Hashem.
“Since we’ve launched three years ago we’ve predominantly looked at drinks and now that PHE has focused on food categories, the top ten categories, we are going to look at those going forward. We’ve already looked at cakes and biscuits last year and this year we’ve looking at perhaps two other categories, although we haven't started that work yet. But we have access to large databases to do those pieces of work. The focus is on food at the moment.”
Ferrero responded to the statement by noting: "Nutella can be enjoyed as part of a varied diet. The recommended portion size is 15g (two heaped teaspoons), which is only 81 calories and contains 8.5g of sugar. This information is clearly communicated to consumers on pack and in our marketing, which is always targeted at adults and never at children. Compared with other typical breakfast options, such as butter and jam on toast, a two heaped teaspoon (15g) serving of Nutella on wholegrain bread contains 3.5g less fat and 2.2g less sugar (measured against two heaped teaspoons of jam with 10g butter)."