Cereal Partners Worldwide (CPW), an alliance of Nestlé and General Mills, said that a large percentage of its cereal brands sold in Australia including Cheerios have been endorsed by the Heart Foundation there through its Tick programme.
The stated objective of the Tick programme is to improve the nutritional content of foods by challenging food companies to meet its strict nutrition and labelling standards, and depending on the product, the standard sets criteria for saturated fat, trans fat, kilojoules, salt, fibre, and calcium.
Only two of the CPW cereal brands marketed by Nestlé in Australia failed to adhere to the nutrition standard, said the company, which was set up in 1989 to produce and sell ready-to-eat breakfast cereals worldwide outside of North America, leveraging the strength of the two food giants.
Neil Hodding, regional director of CPW Oceania, said that the Tick endorsement process took the group five years and that the Foundation’s much coveted mark recognises the reformulation efforts undertaken within its breakfast cereal lines.
“In 2008 our entire range underwent improvements which resulted in all cereals being made with wholegrain and every one providing a source of fibre,” he added.
The group said such reformulation included increasing the wholegrain content of Fruity Bites to 50 per cent, decreasing the sodium in Nut Feast by 21 per cent, and doubling the fibre (1.6g) and reducing sodium (145mg) in Cheerios (based on a 30g serve).
However, critics of the Tick programme question whether foods high in fat or sugar should be allowed to bear such health claims, even if they also contain ingredients that would otherwise qualify them to make such claims. Some nutritionists believe that the green tick will mislead people into thinking they can stop worrying about sugar content.
In 2008, the Nestle chocolate drink Milo was given a "healthy choice" tick from the Australian Heart Foundation based on the fact that it changed the serving size recommendation, in spite of nutritionists flagging up the drink's high sugar content.
Heart Foundation medical director Norman Sharpe told an Australia media outlet at the time that: “there clearly is a downside when it's consumed in too large an amount but it's the real world, and I think it's better that we make the recommendation in a positive way and educate people about the benefits of this product with trim milk as a healthy milk drink.”
The agency’s approval, in 2007, of eight McDonalds’ meal combinations that were reformulated to have less salt, trans fats, saturated fats, as well as more vegetables than the conventional versions also drew the wrath of critics of the Tick mark, who alleged that the move was giving out mixed messages to consumers on junk food.
Meanwhile, less than half of bread products in Australian supermarkets have acceptable salt levels, according to a report published recently by Sydney based, The George Institute for Global Health, and it claims enforcement might be the answer.
The findings, continue the authors, do not inspire confidence in the current approach to salt reduction in bread which relies upon voluntary action by industry: “It is particularly concerning that despite the Food and Health Dialogue making salt reduction a priority and bread a first target, there appears to be little progress.
If the voluntary approach advocated by industry and supported by government cannot deliver salt reduction then regulation will be required,” concludes the study.