UK

Dolmio and Uncle Ben's firm Mars defends limit on products

A Dolmio lasagne kit Image copyright Mars

The company behind Dolmio and Uncle Ben's sauces has defended its "bold" advice that some products should only be consumed once a week due to high salt, sugar or fat content.

Mars Food said it would distinguish between "everyday" and "occasional" items on packaging and on its website.

It said the move was "right" as some foods were higher in salt, sugar or fat to give an authentic taste.

Some experts welcomed the move, while others said it did not go far enough.

Once a week, or "occasional", items include Dolmio lasagne sauces, pesto, and carbonara and macaroni oven kits, and Uncle Ben's oriental sauces.

'Higher standard'

Fiona Dawson, global president of Mars's food department, told BBC News the majority of the firm's products would be "reformulated", with less salt, sugar and fat.

The firm hopes to reduce salt content across its products by an average of 20% by 2021, with added sugar in its sauces cut by 2018.

But she added: "There will be a small set - a small exception - of our products that will sit outside it, such as pesto and our dairy-based products, like lasagne sauces.

"Consumers are saying they want the real deal when they are buying into these."

She said warnings would instead be placed on that packaging.

Consumers needed to be given credit for knowing "what they want and what they like", but did require "more information to make healthier choices", she added.

She said Mars was holding itself to a "much higher standard" and based its recommendations on advice from the World Health Organization (WHO).


How much sugar is hiding in your food?

Are we being fooled by food labels?

How much is too much salt?


Mars said its website would be updated over the next few months with the list of products to be eaten not more than once a week, and "everyday" ones.

The products the advice applies to are to be reformulated over the next five years.

Adults are recommended to have 70g fat a day, 20g saturated fat, 90g sugar and 6g salt. per day.

Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, a charity that raises awareness about the condition, described the move as "hugely unusual" but "very imaginative".

He said: "Mars signposted their direction of travel towards healthier products several years ago and are now putting their money where their mouth is."

The move comes after Chancellor George Osborne announced a sugar tax, with the aim of tackling childhood obesity, in his recent Budget.

And Ben Reynolds, deputy co-ordinator of food and farming alliance Sustain, said companies were "trying to scramble to show they can be good and do the right thing", before the government releases its childhood obesity strategy later this year.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe Victoria Derbyshire programme looks at products affected and hears from healthy eating campaigner Jenny Rosborough from Action on Sugar

He added: "The truth of it is that anything that comes out of a packet, comes out of a jar, that has been processed, is not going to be particularly healthy for you.

"Whether you're making a quick pasta meal or a Sunday roast, the cheapest and healthiest way is from fresh ingredients."

Nutritionist Jenny Rosborough from Action on Sugar told the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme: "It's great that they are pushing forward this responsible labelling and raising awareness.

"But the challenge we have with it is that only the health conscious will look at the labels in the first place."

Nutritionist Laura De La Harpe told BBC Radio 5 live it should not be difficult to reduce the sugar content.

"What would concern me would be if they start adding sweeteners, artificial sweeteners to replace the sugar," she said.


Analysis

Image copyright Thinkstock

By Helen Briggs, BBC News

Whose responsibility is it to make sure we eat healthy food and shouldn't the sugar tax apply to all foods, not just soft drinks?

These are some of the questions being asked following the announcement by Mars that some of its products - such as pasta sauces and pesto - should be eaten only occasionally.

A tax on sugary soft drinks will take effect in two years' time - giving food manufacturers a nudge towards cutting sugar.

But in the food sector the government relies on industry to self-regulate. According to campaign group Campaign for Action on Salt reformulation is key, but while it remains voluntary many companies are failing to do this.

One of the UK's leading nutrition experts, Prof Tom Sanders, says the Mars move sounds like "Martian spin" as there's no need to add large amounts of salt to cook-in sauces - and these foods should be everyday foods not treats.


More on this story

Around the BBC