Today in junk food products that try to disguise themselves as healthy: Hershey’s chocolate syrup. In February, the FDA sent a warning letter to the CEO and President of Hershey Co., John P. Bilbrey. The letter advised Mr. Bilbrey that the front-of-package labeling of some of his company’s chocolate syrup products were guilty of making false health claims. That letter was made public today, and shows that Hershey’s, just like a lot of companies, has been relying on misleading statements to convince consumers that their product was “better.”
The letter outlines how two of Hershey’s chocolate syrup products–Hershey’s® Syrup+Calcium and Hershey’s® Syrup Sugar Free with Vitamin & Mineral Fortification–were not actually fortified with enough calcium or other vitamins to be labeled as such. From the letter:
Your Hershey’s® Syrup+Calcium and Hershey’s® Syrup Sugar Free with Vitamin & Mineral Fortification products are misbranded within the meaning of section 403(r)(1)(A) of the Act because they bear the nutrient content claims “+Calcium,” “FORTIFIED WITH VITAMINS AND MINERALS,” and “Vitamin & Mineral Fortification” but do not comply with the regulations governing the use of these claims.
Basically, unlike other nutritional labels (like “Natural”) that are pretty much unregulated, “vitamins and minerals” requires actual levels of vitamins and minerals. And it’s not just a recommendation. It’s under a federal law (known as “the jelly bean rule“) that is designed to protect consumers from this exact kind of thing.
Hershey’s isn’t the only major food manufacturer who’s tried to bend the law to make their food appear healthier. Remember the $3 million lawsuit that Nutella got slapped with for saying their chocolate spread was good for kids? Or, more recently, the shakedown of health claims made by coconut water companies?
And while it may seem like consumers should be discerning enough to know that adding vitamins to chocolate syrup isn’t enough to make it a healthy product that’s fit for regular consumption, that doesn’t appear to be the case. One study from Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity found that parents are frequently confused or misguided by vitamin fortification claims when it comes to cereal. Another, newer study indicates that fortification and other claims lead to consumer confusion regarding ‘health foods.’
Hershey’s even seems keenly aware of what they can and can’t call their products. On the website for the Hershey Center for Health and Nutrition (are you done laughing about that yet? Let me give you a minute), they explain the standards for what constitutes various kinds of chocolate products. Yet nowhere on the page are the important rules that they’re breaking–like whether or not their “fortified” products actually have enough fortification to be within the legal limits.
But don’t expect a change from Hershey’s any time soon. According to Reuters, the company’s spokesperson was “unfamiliar” with the six-month-old letter.
Image: dno1967b via Flickr