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What bugs you about supermarket packaging?

Sneaky packaging can tempt you into buying products you wouldn’t have otherwise picked up, while masking information that may make you think twice. Which packaging tactics leave you ticked off?

We’ve investigated tricks and tactics that supermarkets and manufacturers use on their product packaging, many of which have been reported to us by Which? members.

I’ve included a few examples below – you can see the full list in the December issue of Which? magazine.

Poor-value gift sets

Some toiletry gift sets offer such poor value for money that you’re effectively paying for the box it comes in.

We found a £6.50 Dove gift set of products that can be bought separately for £4.40. Paying £2.10 extra for a box doesn’t seem worth it to me.

Unilever told us the shop decides the in-store selling price, and that the cost of manufacturing gift packs is much higher.

Tiny portion sizes that make products look healthier

Most products say on the pack how much of your reference intake (RI) of salt, sugar, fat and saturated fat they provide. But Goodfella’s pizzas only give the RI for one quarter of a pizza – even the 10-inch ‘Extra Thin’ range.

Personally, I’d always eat at least half a pizza that size, and 80% of Which? members (non-pizza eaters excepted) agree. Goodfella’s said it’s changing its labelling and the portion size given to half a pizza.

‘Light’ products that aren’t actually healthy

To be labelled as ‘light’, ‘lite’ or ‘reduced’, most products need to have 30% less of one key nutrient (such as calories or fat) compared with the standard version. But more than two in five Which? members have purchased a product labelled ‘light’ or ‘reduced fat’ only to find it wasn’t as healthy as they thought.

Flora Buttery Light contains high amounts of both fat (45g per 100g) and saturated fat (10g per 100g). Unilever told us that Flora Buttery Light complies with labelling regulations.

We think it’s misleading to call products ‘light’ when they’re still high in fat, sugar or saturated fat, particularly when they don’t use traffic-light nutrition labelling on the pack to indicate this.

Which of these packaging tricks bugs you the most – or is your biggest frustration something we haven’t covered here?


” Unilever told us that Flora Buttery Light complies with labelling regulations.” translated into English means “We know what we’re doing is naughty, but the pathetic rules let us get away with it “


This is an example of where the traffic light nutrition labelling helps make us aware of what the manufacturer is up to. In an earlier Conversation we were told that the EC wants the UK to abandon traffic light labelling. I assume that what this means is that companies are putting pressure on the EU to get us to abandon what is a simple and easy to understand system that helps consumers to understand what is in their food.


As long as a claim complies with regulations, there’s nothing that can be done to stop them making it. The issue here is that industry lobbyists influence the regulations. I don’t know if it’s still allowed but for a long time herbal remedies were permitted to claim they were “traditionally used” for certain indications – with no requirement to point out that tradition absolutely does not validate that use.

Sophie Gilbert says:
14 November 2014

One example I’ve seen is gift wrapping paper rolled around a cardboard cylinder that makes you think you’ve got a reasonable lot there when if fact you don’t, and it isn’t necessarily the cheapo manufacturers who resort to this tactic. I was completely fooled like that at Jenners years ago. I thought that for once I would buy nicer Christmas paper and it’s only when I got home that I realised how little I’d bought, even if it gave the length of the roll on the label, duuuhh. (What superb quality though…) You can’t fool all of the people all of the time, but you can fool most of the people some of the time, and some people all of the time, and that’s what manufacturers bank on.


The cardboard cylinder does stop the paper being crushed in your shopping bag, and you can use the tube to sow sweet peas in. It’s not all bad. 🙂

Sophie Gilbert says:
15 November 2014

You’re right, malcolm r. What I meant was that the diameter of the cylinder is bigger in some rolls than in others, to make the rolls appear bigger. I saw some again today in a shop, small roll length, large diameter cylinder, and bigger price to top it all. Same with eg toilet rolls or kitchen rolls.

(Sow sweet peas in them? I’ll give this idea to a friend of mine who’s got a big garden (mine is around 2 sqm, with too much shade). He uses toilet roll cylinders for moulds to make candles!)

Somerchick says:
21 November 2014

“Fish found in surprising products” mentions the issue as only affecting vegetarians. Allergy to fish is not uncommon and these products are posing a risk to people who may have an allergic reaction and not realise what the cause was.


I just received the December issue today and would like to comment on item 10 in the section on Packaging Tricks – ‘Fish found in surprising products’. Yes, I worked in the food industry for many years and have also been a member of CA. However, like most people I like to see good balanced articles and this seems slightly ignorant. Surprisingly to you perhaps Worcestershire Sauce has never been free from fish products since it has a base of anchovy. Caesar salad dressing usually contains anchovy as well. It is interesting that fish gelatine is becoming more widely used. This is primarily I believe to replace beef or pork gelatine which is less acceptable to many groups. Its use would normally be listed unless it is a processing aid and if not mentioned it may be better to state that the product is ‘not suitable for vegetarians’?


Everyone it seems wants to ban or charge for plastic carrier bags, except for me because I think they are useful and have multiple secondary uses. The ones I get never end up stuck over a dolphins nose. However supermarket packaging seems perfectly acceptable, even though there is far too much of it, much more waste than carrier bags, and it has no secondary useful purpose.
If “which” wants to run a really useful campaign start trying to dramatically reduce packaging and lay off carrier bags.

Brynley Newton says:
29 November 2014

When will nutrition info. on packaging indicate the amount of trans-fat? In 2010 the NHS watchdog NICE urged a total ban on trans fats in food so as to significantly reduce heart disease and certain cancers. Nearly 10 years ago Denmark took action and now New York, Canada, Austria, Switzerland, Brazil and many other countries have followed.
There is no “safe” level of trans-fat. In Britain the only way to find out from the nutrition information
the amount of trans-fat is to deduct from the total fat the saturated fat, the monounsaturated fat and the polyunsaturated fat. Any balance remaining is trans-fat. Why is it so difficult to simply indicate this on the packaging? Can WHICH help make this happen?


I am not aware that trans-fats are used as ingredients of food produced in the UK, though watch out for imports.

Trans-fats would be listed as ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oil’ if included. Naturally occurring fats do contain a small amount of trans-fats but the amount is not considered to be a problem.

Brynley Newton says:
30 November 2014

The law requires only that total fat and saturated fat are shown on packaging. Trans-fats are hardly ever indicated and are widely used in Britain.


I am referring to the list of ingredients, not the nutrition labels. I have been avoiding hydrogenated vegetable oils for many years because I learned of the problem of trans-fats before the public was warned about them. I still look at the labels but most manufacturers have stopped using them.

If there is no mention of hydrogenated vegetable oils then the only trans-fats are those that occur naturally, and there is not much that can be done about them other than to avoid using the dairy products and meats that contain them in food.