Labelling front and centre at recent FoodLegal symposium

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 23rd August 2017

A market researcher last week presented evidence to a FoodLegal symposium that Australian consumer perceptions of the Health Star Rating (HSR) system had mistaken perceptions of the star ratings.

Mr Mark Fletcher of consumer market researchers, ShopScience, indicated that the HSR scheme was not being accepted by Australian consumers in the manner in which governments and public health advocates had hoped.

Another speaker, Dr Elizabeth Neale of the University of Wollongong explained that designers of the HSR system had modified the original nutrient data that was used for the health claims food standard 1.2.7 to factor into account food choices and dietary patterns. She explained how the HSR system does its best to align with dietary guidelines but much more education was required to consumers and the media if the HSR system was to be taken seriously as an influence on buyer choices.

Dr Sameera Sirisena, FoodLegal scientists, discussed food reformulation opportunities for the HSR system. She provided examples of the use of binders to replace trans fats and said that sugar reduction strategies were a major industry focus. She explained functional attributes of sugar and other sweeteners and fats and sodium, and the most recent food technological developments for substitution of sugar, different fats and sodium. While FoodLegal Principal Lawyer, Charles Fisher, explained the anomalies that had been explained with the HSR system but that the working committee determining the current algorhythm for the HSR star rating had rejected 16 out of the 17 of these. This therefore created a Pandora’s Box for opportunities to optimise star ratings using the same 16 rejected anomalies as reformulation opportunities.

Dr Greg Grambrill, who sits on the HSR working committee as a representative of the  Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC), provided a food industry approach on the background and history of the HSR system. He explained that over time the health rating system has evolved from a nutrient focused system to now focusing on overall dietary patterns. He further discussed how some nutritionists are incorrectly communicating that products can be compared across categories.

Rebecca Rees, of Insights DR explained the importance of different decision making factors for bio-choice of products in different food categories. She explained the importance of the different hierarchies of factors influencing biochoices according to category, rather than brand. In many categories HSR ratings were less important than other factors in bio-choice. She explained the importance of category management as a way for food companies to put themselves in the “shoes of the supermarket Buyer”.

Mr Nicholas Heys speaking as the leader in the ACCC’s enforcement team, discussed enforcement priorities and the ACCC’s willingness to engage with stakeholders.

Current focus points for the food industry include labelling issues such as country of origin claims, false and misleading representations and deceptive conduct.

Mr Heys said the ACCC is focused on emerging online issues, including the incorrect idea that when it comes to food, online transactions from overseas are not subject to the same compliance obligations they would be in Australia.