Food manufacturers are feeling like deer in the headlights with more attention on the unhealthy diet many in the U.S. and other countries have. Some companies hide data on calorie, sugar, sodium and other content factors by repackaging to reduce quantity or claiming the item is 2 or 3 servings (even though diners consistently treat it like one serving). Others, particularly Mars Food, are tackling the issue head on with new packaging labels honestly acknowledging which foods they manufacture should only be consumed occasionally versus everyday.
Mars Food announced a new global Health and Wellbeing Ambition to promote healthier foods and encourage people to cook healthier meals. The worldwide initiative, to be implemented over the next five years, will focus on improving the nutritional content of their products; providing better nutritional information to help consumers make better dietary choices; inspiring people to eat healthier meals; exploring new formats and an effort to improve the health of their own staff with nutrition education, cooking facilities, and more.
The company’s food segment will help consumers determine which of their products should be “everyday” versus “occasional” dining options. Mars has indicated that some products have to contain more salt, sugar or fat to taste “authentic” and meet consumer taste expectations. Those products are higher in salt, added sugar or fat. Accordingly, those foods should not be eaten daily, so the firm intends to indicate that on packaging in the future.
In the interim, Mars is updating its Website to show which foods should only be an occasional dietary items (no more than one a week) versus those that are intended for everyday use. In addition, when possible, some of the everyday use items will be reformulated to reduce their sugar or sodium content. This is part of a public health effort pushed by the World Health Organization and others to reduce sodium and sugar consumption, particularly added sugars and such. The company will also expand its multi-grain options so that at least half of its rice products include whole grains, legumes or both.
While their press release highlights their food initiative, it is part of a broader corporate commitment. Mars Food is a division of Mars Inc., which is commonly known for its Chocolate division and brands like M&Ms, Milky Way, Snickers and Twix. However, the company actually has several diverse segments. Their food segment includes products like Uncle Ben’s, Seeds of Change and a variety of brands around the world. The corporation also has a pet care division (include Pedigree brand products) and owns Wrigley (with products including Juicy Fruit, Doublemint, Orbit, Life Savers, Skittles, Starburst and Altoids).
Mars announced last month it has started revamping their candy and other packaging to indicate whether the item includes genetically modified organisms (GMOs). A Vermont law that requires companies to disclose GMOs in food products starting July 1, 2016 triggered the move. (Because of the Vermont-requirement General Mills and other companies are revamping all their packaging too.) For those curious, M&Ms, Skittles, Lifesavers and Wrigley gum products are among those they produce that will have GMO labels.
Mars move to label GMOs may have been mandated by law, but their plan to label foods as to whether they should only be consumed occasionally is a highly unusual one, all their own. Whether it will be effective remains to be seen, labeling calories, sodium and fat contents on foods has had minimal effect, but people are more aware of the public health issues today.
Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss
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Photo courtesy Mars Food