CALLS have been made for food brands to start paying attention to dietary conditions when labelling products.
It comes after Freedom Confectionary announced that they are to launch a new Phenylketonuria (PKU) stamp of approval on their products.
PKU is a rare condition which affects 1 in 10,000 babies born in the UK. It is caused by a defect in the gene which helps create the enzyme needed to break down phenylalanine (protein) – as a result, those with the condition need to follow a strict low-protein diet for life.
According to research led by Professor Anita MacDonald, a metabolic dietician at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, over half (55%) of online protein product descriptions by supermarket food brands are misleading or inaccurate – making it potentially dangerous and incredibly challenging for customers with PKU to shop with confidence.
Freedom Confectionary said that it understands the need for consumers to feel safe and confident with their food choice, so will be launching a PKU-friendly stamp which will be introduced on its allergy-free mallow packaging.
The firm said that the packaging, which will be rolled out later this year, has been designed to promote inclusion and to ensure that no child feels left out due to their dietary needs. It has partnered with the NSPKU, a UK charity set up to improve the lives of people living with PKU, to produce the standardised PKU stamp – with other brands being encouraged to adopt it.
The Freedom Confectionery packaging will also include PKU protein conversions within its nutritional information, making it easier for parents to determine whether the product is safe for their children.
Elvin Willgrass, sales director at Freedom Confectionery, said, “We’ve worked with Prof. MacDonald and the PKU community for many years now and we’ve seen the joy marshmallows bring to children struggling with this condition day in, day out. We’ve also witnessed the challenges parents face when going to the supermarket. These families already have enough worry in their lives and should be able to rely on brands to provide them with the correct nutritional information. For many parents who have children with PKU shopping for food can literally be a life-or-death experience.
“The introduction of the PKU friendly stamp and the PKU protein conversion information is the first step in our mission to make food buying safe and easy for everyone, regardless of dietary needs. The fact that over half of supermarket food brands label incorrectly worries me on website as there are thousands of people in the UK who rely on packaging to give them the right information and to reassure them that what they are buying is safe for them to eat. Natasha’s Law launches in October this year, which will help drive a change, but we also feel incredibly passionate about it and want do what we can to make the shopping process easier for those who already have enough stress in their lives.”
Prof. Anita MacDonald added, “For parents or people with PKU walking into the supermarket is like navigating a minefield. Everything they choose for their children to eat must be checked and checked again to ensure it doesn’t contain high levels of protein, so incorrect labelling can have serious consequences for their children’s health. What Freedom Confectionery is doing is making it so much easier for these parents to shop, it will make a huge difference and I hope other brands will follow suit.
“Freedom Confectionery is also helping to bring some normality to the lives of these children, who can’t eat what their friends eat. Their faces light up when they are given a bag of marshmallows and for the children it’s a sweet treat they can enjoy and know is safe for them to eat. Inclusion is a big thing for children with PKU and the bright, colourful packaging produced by Freedom Confectionery helps make them feel included.”
Jessica Brown is mum to six-year-old Stanley who was born with PKU and must follow a strict low protein diet for the rest of his life. She said, “It’s really time consuming, I can spend hours looking online for food for Stanley to try. As he’s getting older, he wants to try new things, food that his friends are eating, so I spend a lot of time researching what new foods are out there. When it comes to packaging, I check, check and check again and feel like I spend my life looking at labels. I can spend days going from one supermarket to another to find food for Stanley to try but it’s important that I give him the opportunity to try new things.
“The biggest challenge I find when shopping is the inconsistency in product information. Many a time, I have found a new product online that is fine for Stanley to eat and then when it arrives the protein information on the label doesn’t match what it says on the website and he can’t have it.”