Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Peeling back the wrapper: Why would Mars support the new added sugars label?

By Melissa Hudec and Parke Wilde

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing a new Nutrition Facts Panel that identifies added sugars (rather than just mixing added sugars in with all other sugars).

The proposed label supports a recommendation from the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which—if adopted by the federal government—would advise that added sugars be limited to no more than 10% of daily calories.

Of course, many food and beverage companies hated these policy changes. Yet, there were some exceptions. For example, Mars, Inc. — yes, the maker of M&Ms and other candies—supported the new added sugars label. As the Wall Street Journal reported:
“It might appear to be counterintuitive, but if you dig down a bit more, we know candy itself is not a diet,” said Dave Crean, global head of research and development at Mars. “It shouldn’t be consumed too often, and having transparency of how much it should be consumed is actually quite helpful to consumers.”
We are not sure why Mars would support the new labels, but we have three theories, which may in combination offer some explanation.

First, Mars is a privately owned company, not beholden to shareholders. Perhaps this gives managers greater freedom to pursue the company’s long-term interest and reputation rather than just short-term sales.

Second, chocolate products may have less to lose than other high-sugar products have. We created this mockup approximate comparison of a Mars candy and a major soda brand (assuming a standardized serving size for the candy and making some assumptions about how much sugar is added sugar). A chocolate candy has some calories from fat, and even some of the carbohydrates (in the dairy ingredients) may not count as “added sugars.” By comparison, a soda gets all of its calories from added sugars. In total, the Mars candy provides only approximately 13g of added sugars (26% of the daily value), while a soda provides 39g of added sugars (fully 78% of the daily value!).

Third, Mars is more than just chocolate. In fact, it may surprise the reader that confectionery products comprise only about 1/3 of its portfolio (.pdf). The rest of sales come from primarily from pet food, as well as from the Wrigley subsidiary, and a smaller amount from savory food products, drinks, and the up-and-coming Symbioscience (“cocoa flavanols” and a topic for future discussion) products. 

Source: Mars, Inc.
Surprisingly, the food industry is not unanimous about the new added sugar label. On the contrary, for a variety of reasons, some major players say they can work just fine under the new system.

This post was adapted from Melissa Hudec's term paper for Parke Wilde's class on U.S. Food Policy.

Update (Jan 5, 2016): A former student in the same food policy class -- who now works in corporate affairs at Nestlé -- emails to point out quite rightly that her company also supported the FDA proposal: "I loved your and Melissa Hudec’s post on added sugars labeling. Now that I work at Nestlé and spend a lot of time on our nutrition-related positions, I feel compelled to comment! Nestlé has also publicly supported FDA’s proposal for mandatory declaration of added sugars. In fact, this article came out a few days after your post."


Anonymous said...

Any credible research demonstrating "added sugar" is metabolized differently and with significantly more deleterious outcome than any sugar from any source?

What is the biochemistry of this new category of nutrient, "added sugar"? Apparently the committee classifies HFCS as "added sugar". Does this mean HFCS can now legally call itself "sugar" on nutrition labels? Presumably molasses would also fall under the category of "added sugar"? Does lactose count if milk is added to a recipe? What is the legal definition of "sugar" guiding this legislation?

Where is the line drawn relative to which ingredients are "added" to which? As an extreme example take soda, which is an obvious target of this legislation -- if soda manufacturers choose to understand the recipe as being based upon sugar as the base ingredient to which is added water, coloring, carbonation, etc., is there still "added sugar" in the product or is it really now diluted sugar and technically exempt from labeling? Less extreme example -- when Wholefoods Market labels its Tres Leches Cake are sugars contained in the condensed milk and lactose from all the added milk counted as "added sugar" in your tally?

Seems like this "added sugar" concept is rather capricious. Surely there are scientifically accepted standard nutrients the committee could have availed itself of instead of jury-rigging together an arbitrary new nutrient class; "added sugar". Are members of the dietary committee trained in classic nutrition, you know, having completed prerequisites in chemistry, biochemistry, nutrition chemistry, food science, clinical nutrition -- the classic underlying science-based training? This "added sugar" thing sounds like something a philosophy or political sciences major might innocently dream up, not knowing any better.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous poster,

There are at least 61 different names for added sugars,

Here are the specifics for added sugars:


P.S Took 5 minutes to find

Anonymous said...

Yeah, a quick google search gets us to the different sources of sugar and the nomenclature. But how about a link or two that explain how "sdded sugar" is metabolized differently (and more dangerously, apparently) than "naturally occurring sugar". You know, a review of the critical biochemistry and physiology of "added sugar" compared and contrasted with classic understanding of mono and disaccharide metabolism. Just an adult explanation of how this idea of "added sugar" is a vital advancement to nutrition science and not just a contrived notion, please and thanks.