European consumers are being misled by labels that ‘sugar-coat’ what is inside food and drink packages, according to a new report from The European Consumer Organisation, BEUC.

The report, which combines evidence from nine national consumer organisations including the Dutch Consumentenbond, highlights three so-called tricks of the trade.

It is lobbying the EU to crack down on products that have labels such as ‘traditional’ or ‘artisanal’ but have heavily-processed ingredients. It also protests about drinks and dairy products with little or no fruit in packaging with images of fruit, and bread, biscuits and pasta labelled ‘whole grain’ – but with very little fibre.

Monique Goyens, director general of BEUC, said in a press release: ‘A “pineapple & coconut” drink can be made up of less than one third of these fruits. These are the kinds of misleading labelling practices that consumer organisations have repeatedly found across Europe.

‘Surveys in Germany and the Netherlands show that more than 80% of consumers do not trust food labels, and this report proves they have good reasons. Pressure from our member organisations [has] led some manufacturers to make their packaging more honest. But the EU institutions and member states also need to step up their game.’


Vitamin water?

Babs van der Staak, a spokeswoman for the Consumentenbond, told that it really matters that the front of packaging properly represents what is inside – and said it has had some success in persuading manufacturers such as Hema to change the name of sugary soft drinks that were labelled ‘vitamin water’.

‘As a consumer, you don’t have the time to read the back of everything in the supermarket and study all of the ingredients,’ she said.

‘You go on what’s on the front, or the name. If it’s called “vitamin water”, you think it’s water with added vitamins. But if that isn’t the case, people feel misled, especially if they thought it was healthy.



‘A lot of people think they should eat wholemeal products because they are good for them, but if a wholemeal cracker only has 20% wholemeal flour and the rest wheatflour, that’s not so healthy. Manufacturers misuse labels like ‘wholemeal’ because they think they will sell more. Marketing uses the grey areas in the law and misleads consumers.’

The organisation is supporting the BEUC’s lobbying for clearer EU rules, and asks Dutch consumers to suggest more examples for its ‘wall of shame’ of products that appear to have misleading labelling.