A dietitian for food giant Heinz has denied that the company misrepresented snacks for toddlers as health food, despite containing the equivalent of three teaspoons of sugar per serving.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission commenced litigation against Heinz before the Federal Court in June last year following a complaint from the health lobby group Obesity Policy Coalition about the company’s “Shredz” snack for toddlers. The watchdog is asking the court to withdraw the Shredz product from distribution, and order Heinz to pay a fine and publish a correction.
The product in question, “Fruit and Veg Shredz” from Heinz’s Little Kids range, is marketed as “99% fruit and veg”. However, lawyers for the ACCC told Fairfax Media that they have sought comment from an unspecified expert witness, who will tell the court that the product should be classified as confectionary according to Australian dietary standards.
Jane Martin, Executive Director of the Obesity Policy Coalition, wrote in her complaint to the ACCC that the Shredz product contains nearly the whole daily sugar intake recommended for toddlers by the World Health Organisations.
“These sorts of high-sugar products aren’t an appropriate food for kids. It’s much better to give them whole, unprocessed foods,” she told reporters.
“Manufacturers are turning to what sounds like it might be healthy by using sugar from fruit, but we know the WHO considers fruit concentrates and pastes as added sugar.”
Heinz has pulled the product from circulation pending the Federal Court’s decision, but is strenuously denying the complaints made against it. Their dietician Christine Weaver told Justice Richard White that the sugar content of the Shredz product was appropriate given the recommended serving sizes.
“Twelve grams per serve is representative of a lot of other snack food for a toddler,” she told the Court. “If it was a bigger portion size and wasn’t portion controlled, I would have been more concerned.”
ACCC Counsel Tom Duggan SC told the court that fruit juice concentrate used in the Shredz product contained the equivalent of three teaspoons of sugar. However, Ms Weaver argued that fruit juice was not categorised as added sugar under Australian health guidelines when the product was developed in 2012.
Ms Weaver rejected Mr Duggan’s claim that the product was chewy, sticky, and overly sweet. Justice White will have to take her word for it, however, as His Honour declined to test the product himself when offered a sample by the ACCC, on the basis that doing so would destroy an exhibit in the case.
The case continues before the Federal Court.