By: Choice magazine
Consumer group CHOICE has welcomed the ACCC's decision to penalise Unilever and Smith's over $10,000 each for allegedly making false or misleading representations with on-pack school canteen certifications designed to make kids' snacks appear healthier than they are.
CHOICE first submitted a complaint about self-made school canteen logos to the ACCC back in late 2015, after an investigation found reason to believe that manufacturers behind products such as Paddle Pops, Tiny Teddies and Shapes are tricking parents with these logos on packaging to imply that their junk food is a good option for school lunchboxes.
"These junk food giants were clearly tricking consumers with dodgy school canteen certification logos," says CHOICE Head of Communications Tom Godfrey.
"School canteen approved logos are essentially acting as health halos for processed, packaged foods, so the decision to fine Unilever and Smith's is welcome news.
"These certifications claiming to be 'school canteen approved' are leading parents to believe products are healthier for their kids, but we found that these logos predominantly appear on processed snacks with little or no nutritional value.
"With one-in-four children in Australia overweight or obese, we need labels that make it easier to make healthier decisions," says Mr Godfrey.
Unilever's Rainbow Paddle Pops and Smith's Sakata Paws Pizza Supreme Rice Snacks were both found to be using school canteen logos to suggest or imply these products were a healthy option for children when they were not.
Although both packs had disclaimers that the products only met 'Amber' criteria of the National Healthy School Canteens Guidelines, the ACCC believes they were not prominent enough due to the smaller font size and appearing on a different side to the logos.
"This is a timely reminder to parents to be on the lookout for 'health halos' when navigating the supermarket aisles each week," Mr Godfrey says.
"School canteen guidelines exist to inform canteen managers on how to prepare their menus. These supermarket products promoted an 'amber rating', which in a canteen setting means they should be 'selected carefully' rather than eaten regularly. Without the context of the guidelines, these claims are pushing unhealthy options."
CHOICE's research found that 43% of parents believed that products with these logos were healthier than similar products without logos. And 42% would be more likely to choose a product with one of these logos than a similar product without the logo.
"Our message to parents is simple: don't trust the claims made by junk food companies around canteen certification. These labels aren't accredited or approved by an independent body - they are created by the food companies themselves.
"We recommend that food companies replace these certifications with Health Star Ratings so that consumers are able to make fair and easy comparisons between food products."
After receiving a Shonky Award in 2015, Arnott's announced it would remove its dodgy logo from Tiny Teddy and Shapes packs by mid-2016.