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Are Food Packaging Claims Misleading Parents?

Are Food Packaging Claims Misleading Parents?

Mums say their children are growing up with a taste for engineered food with unnecessary additives, artificial flavours and colours

As parents they feel misled by claims of 'natural' or 'real' on food labelling, according to a new Organix survey. Mums are concerned about artificial flavours and colours in food targeted at children, with 90% thinking the food industry enhances or engineers the flavour of foods to appeal to children. Whilst more than three-quarters think artificial colourings and flavourings are unnecessary and often hide cheap ingredients.

The survey commissioned by Organix found that mums are trying to make good choices about their children's food, with 72% saying they are more likely to buy food that claims it's 'real' or 'natural', and 63% thinking the food is healthier if the label says it's 'real' or 'natural'.

Yet it's not clear from labels what ingredients are in the food, 54% of mums say that food labelling is often misleading, and 64% are shocked at the number of ingredients in the food aimed at children.

Is children's appetite for 'real' food being damaged?

baby eating broccoli
In fact when asked about whether they think children are growing up with a taste for engineered food vs. real food, the survey reveals that:
Bullet  Two thirds of children prefer chicken nuggets (66%) to chicken breast (34%).
Bullet  Eight out of 10 children prefer tomato ketchup (81%) to fresh tomatoes (19%).
Bullet  Eight out of 10 children prefer fish fingers (81%) to fillet of fish (19%).
Bullet  Nearly half (49%) say that a little ketchup or mayonnaise helps the vegetables go down.>h2>Understanding more about engineered foodTo uncover more about the impact of engineered food and the increasing use of unnecessary additives, colourings and flavourings on the development of taste for food among young children, Organix commissioned a new research study “Engineering Taste - Is this the future of our children's food?”.
Organix taste Infographic

According to the study, carried out by Greg Tucker, Taste Psychologist, and Professor Andy Taylor from the University of Nottingham Food Science Department, engineered foods are distorting children's ability to recognise and enjoy the taste of 'real' foods. This is shifting children's palates – they are learning to look for fast taste gratification and easy eats – and losing the ability and desire to invest the time and effort to enjoy and experience 'real' food that is honestly delivered.

child eating chicken
The research found the lines are blurring between 'real' and artificial, creating a new space, 'the zone of artifice'. It comprises foods labelled as being 'natural', with no artificial flavours, yet which have additions that have no natural role in the food, but are there to enhance the eating experience. The food is being engineered to enhance the eating experience – the flavour, texture, colour and appeal of the food – and it's at odds with the front of pack claims.

Is a chicken nugget 'real' chicken? It's breast meat with no artificial colourings or flavourings, yet it's been engineered into a quick, bitesize, convenient format, which bears little resemblance to the experience of eating 'real' chicken. It may be quite shocking for parents to see the statement “Made with 100% chicken breast guaranteed”, when in fact the ingredients show there is only 51% chicken breast – and a total of 14 different ingredients. Whilst the meat component of the nuggets may well be 100% chicken, these figures indicate that a huge 49% of the nugget
fussy eater
is not meat but breadcrumbs - with flour, water, salt, oil, maize and natural flavourings all on the ingredients list. These engineered foods are leading to a change in the way children taste, experience, understand and appreciate foods.

Additionally the study reveals that misleading claims about 'real' and 'natural' mean parents are unable to make informed purchase decisions. Time-poor mums want meals to be convenient and 'natural' – the two objectives tend to be at odds with each other. The more convenient the food, the less 'real' it is likely to be. The research suggests mums are keen to make good food choices so they seek out 'real' and 'natural' claims on the front of pack during their supermarket shop. As they learnt more about the product and its ingredients (often very long lists of ingredients), many mums were surprised to discover it was not as
Organix Taste Report
'natural' as it appeared, or as the manufacturers had claimed.
Researcher, Taste Psychologist Greg Tucker says, “We're seeing a new take on artificial. The addition of a natural ingredient to a food, but one not expected or understood, and designed to shift or materially enhance the delivery is an artifice – carrot juice in a strawberry yoghurt is clearly not right. This zone of artifice is a deliberate mislead by the food industry, and it's changing how children eat”.

What do you think?
Do you feel conned by products that claim to be 'natural' and 'real'? Are you surprised by the number of ingredients in some children's foods? Do you know what the ingredients are there for?

Join the discussion at Facebook:/organixfood and Twitter/OrganixBrands: @organixbrands, #OrganixTaste

Organix Top Tips to help you become more label savvy

1. Know what's in the food you feed your family.
2. Don't be lured by front-of-pack flashes such as "real" or "natural" which can actually mean very little when there is a long list of complicated ingredients in the small-print on the back.
3. If you have the time, try to take a closer look at back of pack ingredients and the nutritional information.
4. Go for fewer ingredients - if there are too many ingredients, or ones you don't recognise, then the more additives there are likely to be.
5. Look for ingredients that you recognise, that would appear in a recipe, or that you might find at home.
6. Avoid colourings, artificial sweeteners, starches or thickeners, preservatives, flavour enhancers and flavourings.

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