Ad self-regulator says 72% sugar is a simple serve of fruit

By September 17, 2009Uncategorized

The Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) has ruled on my complaint about Nestle’s Fruit Fix advertising. Apparently Nestle has done absolutely nothing wrong. It’s perfectly ok to advertise a product which is 72% sugar as being equivalent to one serve of fruit.

It’s also wrong to suggest that the product was targeting children under 14 years of age. No you see, it was their parents being targeted, so there was no need to consider the special provisions relating to advertising to children.

Even though the ASB acknowledged that children would be viewing the programs in which it appeared, they decided that the ‘advertisement is not directed to children’. And I suppose that’s right, looking at the ad again it probably is trying to target parents feeling guilty about their children’s nutrition rather than the children themselves. Though I’m sure the kids don’t mind the lolly in their lunch box.

The ASB spends much time in its decision (enter 284/09 in the case search box) pointing out that it is not applying a legal test in its determinations. They don’t want you to go mistaking them for an impartial regulator or court. Rather they are an industry funded self-regulator who sees their role as providing ‘guidance to advertisers’ on what the community considers acceptable.

For a non-legal analysis, the ASB have gotten very pernickety about the definition of fruit. I was suffering under the impression that I knew what fruit was. A strawberry was an example that leapt to mind when thinking about strawberry flavoured Fruit Fix’s, but as Nestle pointed out, they contain more grapes and apples than anything else. Even so, each of these whole fruits is at most 15.5% sugar. Process them, squish them and dry them out though, and you can get that up to the 75% range.

Advertisers of all manner of confectionary should be very pleased with the ruling indeed. According to the test which the ASB seems to be applying, a Mars Bar could be advertised as equivalent to three serves of fruit. The Mars Bar is only 56% sugar compared to 72% for the Fruit Fix, so maybe they could top it up a tad and chuck in a little more salt so it didn’t taste too sweet.

And I can’t wait to see a range of new advertisements from Big Sugar telling us that a 250ml bottle of soft drink is equivalent to two serves of fruit. They will of course have to make sure that the sugar molecules involved were once part of a piece of fruit rather than the dreaded sugar cane. Perhaps they could demand ID from the sugar molecules at the factory door. That should sort them out.

Now I’m sure the ASB (and Nestle for that matter) would say that I am unfairly shooting the messenger and they might just be right. They are simply applying the black letter of the wording of the Australian Dietary Guidelines. They clearly state (somewhere in the fine print) that one and a half tablespoons of sultanas are equivalent to a serve of fruit and so is half a cup (125 ml) of fruit juice. So while I can rant and rave about how much sugar is in those things, the people watching over our health have deemed those to be equivalent to fruit.

Pureed, Dried and Juiced (once was) fruit is no more fruit, than a bag of sugar is grass. It’s time the escape clause was removed from the guidelines. It’s time the game of ducks and drakes with sugar molecules was bought to an end. And its time advertisers were made to call a lolly a lolly.

Suggesting to time-poor parents that they were in some way doing their children a favour by giving them a lump of sticky sugar and calling it fruit is just plain appalling. Big Sugar knows it’s not true. Your kids’ dentist knows it’s not true (go on, ask her). And you (and your kids) shouldn’t swallow it, no matter how much the ASB is happy to believe that nothing untoward is going on.

Also published in Crikey

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