Ok, so saying that not everything you read on food packaging is what it seems is a bit like stating Britain’s weather is changeable. But do you actually know what all the food jargon and weasel words mean?
Do you know the difference between ‘flavour’ and ‘flavoured’, or ‘juice’ and ‘juice drink’? And what about ‘light’ and ‘diet’, or ‘pure’, ‘natural’ and ‘free range’?
Are any of these terms regulated by law – and if so what do they mean?
Hidden horrors in food
When we took a closer look at packaging we found a few hidden horrors, like a popular fruit juice described as containing natural fruit and spring water. Well, it does, but it also contains up to your entire Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) of sugar in a one-litre bottle.
Fair enough, you might think, although there’s no way for consumers to see this, because sugar isn’t detailed in the nutritional information.
Or take a strawberry ‘flavour’ yoghurt drink. Does it have to contain strawberries? No, just flavourings – but if it was strawberry ‘flavoured’ it would.
Another of my favourites is the ‘juice drink’, which doesn’t mean much at all. ‘Juice’ has to be, well, juice, but we found a ‘juice drink’ with ‘real fruit’ that contains less fruit than sugar – just 5% from concentrate.
Navigating the maze of mixed meanings
Seemingly ‘healthy’ products can also be full of surprises too. The term ‘diet’ doesn’t actually have to mean anything, but ‘light’ or ‘reduced in’ does. They indicate that a product is at least 30% lower in one of its main nutritional components – like fat or sugar – but you can still find a ‘light’ biscuit with 30% reduced fat that has more sugar than the normal version.
Given all these mixed meanings it’s important that consumers know what they’re getting and that guidance is tightened up. This, and other labelling issues, now falls to Defra following the shake up of the Food Standards Agency.
Admittedly, they’ve got plenty on their plate, but it’s key they remain consumer focussed, and clarifying this kind of food jargon will show they’re exactly that.
But at the end of the day these manufacturers aren’t, for the most part, doing anything illegal. The guidance on these issues is complicated stuff, and by its very nature has to allow room to manoeuvre, so it’s ultimately up to consumers not to take everything at face value.
So have you come across any creative terminology on food packaging? We’re always on the look out, so tell us below and we might even feature them in the magazine.