by Johanna Smith, UMN Law Student, MJLSTStaff
Looking at the packaging on a food item can be very overwhelming. Not only does the product contain required nutritional information and an ingredients list, many products also contain health claims or statements on the front of the package to grab the customer's attention. Common terms to see include organic, low-fat, high fiber, and low-carb. In "How Can Better Food Labels Contribute to True Choice?," recently published in the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, J.C. Horvath discusses the evolution of the regulation of claims made on food packaging. In addition to regulatory pressure, the other major source of pressure that determines what shows up on food packaging is consumer preference.
A decade or so ago, the hot trend was to highlight items as being non-fat or low-fat. However, consumers quickly realized that eliminating all fat and calories eliminated the taste of the food that they liked and the popularity of these items declined. This set the stage for the successful marketing of mid-calorie foods. These foods have less fat and fewer calories than the original version of the food, but more than the typical diet food. The goal is to mimic the taste profile of the regular version of the product, but reduce the calories and fat. Examples of recent marketing successes include Edy's/Dreyer's Slow Churned ice creams and Hershey's Simple Pleasures chocolates. Many different drinks, including soda, sports drinks, and juice are also trying to find success in this balancing act.
While I applaud the effort to provide "healthier" options to consumers, mid-calorie foods should not be thought of as diet foods. The labels used on mid-calorie food packages should not lead consumers to think that it is a low-fat or low-calorie diet food. In many instances, the mid-calorie food still contains relatively high amounts of fat and calories per serving. If incorporated into a person's diet correctly, mid-calorie foods are an easy way to eliminate unnecessary fat and calories. For example, if someone has already decided to eat some chocolate, choosing Hershey's Simple Pleasures over a regular Hershey's chocolate bar is a good choice. But, the better choice may be to not have any chocolate at all. Moderation and variety are still the keys to a healthy diet.