Food experts have pointed out that the “fruit” many companies claim on their packaging is actually just balls of sugar and soybean oil, mixed with tiny bits of dried fruit.
Consumer watchdogs warn that some of biggest food companies are fooling us with unhealthy and high-sugar “fruit imposters” inside labels promising “real fruit, full of vitamins”.
An example is Special K Fruit and Yogurt cereal, with fresh berries on the front of the box.
Michael Jacobson, the head of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer watchdog group, told Today it actually contains “no berries whatsoever”.
He explained that these berry “imposters” are in a lot of foods, like blueberry Eggos and Aunt Jemima’s Blueberry Pancakes.
While the label proclaims “made with real blueberries”, it actually contains “blueberry bits” which are blue chucks shaped into balls made from “mostly sugar and soybean oil, then little bits of real blueberry that’s been artificially colored”.
Today‘s National Investigative Correspondent Jeff Rossen said: “If the companies were in this room, they would say: <<Look, we’re printing the ingredients on the label. No misleading advertising here.>>”
But Michael Jacobsen disagreed: “You can’t deceive people in big print and pictures on the front of the label, and then give the correct answers on the back of the label.”
One shopper said: “I think they’re duping people. It’s complete false advertising.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which oversees such labeling, told Today that it “supports laws requiring labels to be truthful and non-misleading”, and these labels “are permitted” under FDA regulations as long as the word “flavored” is also printed.
Nutritionist Joy Bauer explained: “If you see the word <<flavored>>, either natural or artificial, it could be a red flag that there’s actually no fruit within that product.”
“The Food and Drug Administration is asleep at the wheel. It rarely brings complaints against these companies,” said Michael Jacobsen, whose own group is suing Coca-Cola, which owns vitaminwater because “there aren’t any strawberries and there aren’t any kiwis in there”.
“I suspect the FDA doesn’t want to tangle with big companies who could keep them tied up in court for years… [But] that bottle contains almost as much sugar as a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola.
“Companies are gonna make a lot more money if they can imply that there are berries in the product, but not put them there. They’re saving a lot of money, but they’re cheating consumers.”
Jeff Rossen added: “The food companies told us some of that real fruit on the package is meant as a serving suggestion, and is disclosed in small print.
“The FDA says it does inspect labels, and it’s cracking down on companies that break the law. The agency told us it’s your responsibility to read the entire label, not just the front.”