M&M Maker Wants Labels for Added Sugar
Mars Inc. to support new guidelines limiting added sugar to 10% of calories
By Annie Gasparro in the Wall Street Journal
The maker of the world’s best-selling chocolate candy is advocating that people eat less added sugar.
Mars Inc., maker of M&M’s and Snickers, is throwing its support behind a proposal by U.S. regulators to include measurements of added sugar in the mandated Nutrition Facts labels for food, a move that bucks broad opposition to the proposal by big food companies.
In a letter submitted to government officials Thursday, Mars said it also backs calls by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which counsels the federal government, recommending that people should limit added sugar to 10% of daily calories.
“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.”
Sugar is currently one of the few nutrients that doesn’t have a recommended consumption level on U.S. food labels, because the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t proposed a specific limit. Critics have blamed pressure from food companies. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s February recommendation was its first for how much added sugar should be consumed.
Mars, with more than $33 billion in annual sales in 73 countries, makes more than candy—such as Uncle Ben’s Rice in the U.S. and Dolmio pasta sauce in Europe.
Michael Jacobson, head of the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, which supports labeling added sugars on food, said the risks might be bigger for labeling non-dessert products, because Americans are more likely to be shocked by the amount of sugar in items like pasta sauce, bread and yogurt. “It’s obvious to consumers that chocolate is made with sugar,” he said.
Mars doesn’t currently break out added sugar, and says it doesn’t plan to unless the FDA labeling change is made. But a standard, 47.9-gram package of milk chocolate M&M’s, with 240 calories, has 30 grams of sugar, while a typical Snickers bar has 27 grams of sugar and 250 calories.
Other food companies have said that breaking out added sugar could be misleading to consumers, because the body reacts the same to sugar found naturally in foods like fruit as it does to the added sugar in ice cream or candy.
They say additional nutritional information rarely influences consumer behavior and would be costly for companies to implement.
Mars’ Mr. Crean said that after much research, the company determined that more information wouldn’t be harmful to consumers. Americans often consume too much added sugar, contributing to the obesity epidemic and diabetes.
“It’s not the entire answer to the public health issue, but it is a monumental change for the industry,” Mr. Crean said of the advisory committee’s recommendation and the FDA’s proposed label change.
While many in the industry oppose mandatory labeling, other companies are taking steps to address consumers concerns about healthy consumption of candy and snacks.
Mondelez International Inc. has vowed to increase the percentage of its snacks and candy, such as Oreo cookies and Cadbury chocolates, that have 200 calories or less per package.
Hershey Co. recently said it is working to simplify its ingredients so as to appear more natural to consumers. Nestlé S.A. is working on removing artificial flavors and colorings from its candy.
Those companies wouldn’t comment Thursday on whether they support the 10% limit of added sugar intake or the possibility of breaking out “added sugars” in food labels.
Mars previously has moved to address health concerns as well. “Mars was also an important, if somewhat unlikely, ally in the fight to get junk food out of schools, and has one of the strongest policies when it comes to shielding kids from junk-food marketing,” said CSPI Health Promotion Policy Director Jim O’Hara. The M&M’s website requires Internet surfers to enter their birthday to prove they are at least 12 years old before they can access it, for instance.
“The FDA appreciates the support and engagement of Mars and other companies in the important effort to reduce added sugar in the American diet,” an FDA official said in a statement.
The government’s allotted period for companies and consumers to comment on the advisory committee’s findings closes at 11:59 p.m. ET Friday.