Nestlé changes 'misleading' marketing over no-meat beef soup

© iStock/Alleko

Nestlé has removed a picture of fresh beef from the packaging of its dried beef and carrot soup - which did not contain any beef - following a two-year campaign by industry watchdog Foodwatch over misleading marketing.

The product, which had been marketed as traditional carrot and beef vermicelli soup, contains 1.1% beef dripping, which Foodwatch said was misleading to consumers.

It also argued that the ingredients list, which contains taste enhancers glutamate, disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate, would not be considered ‘traditional’ by most consumers.

“If there is no, or very little, beef in the soup we consider that Nestle should not depict meat on the packaging. As long as a recipe does not conform with a genuine ‘traditional ['a l’anciennce'] recipe - an expression whose usage is regulated – the product should not allude to it,” argued Foodwatch.

When Foodwatch raised this point with Nestlé, the company responded that the soup was marketed as having a ‘traditional flavour’ and not traditional.

Foodwatch originally drew attention to the misleading marketing back in 2014 with a campaign petitioning the company to change the packaging that received a total of almost 15,000 signatures.

Nestlé did change the packaging in 2015 but its new-look soup still bore a prominent picture of beef and carrots.

It has since removed this, and has added the word ‘bouillon’ [stock] to the front of the pack.

'No will to mislead'

A spokesperson for Nestlé told FoodNavigator the company had taken on board feedback from both Foodwatch and consumers. “There was no will to mislead consumers. It was not a matter of pressure but we tried to take into account the voice of Foodwatch and consumers.”

“Maggi has been undergoing continuous improvement of its soups for five years and the main axis of this has been salt, fat and sugar reduction."

As the product is a stock, it would not have been appropriate to add meat to the recipe, the spokesperson said.

Information director at Foodwatch France Ingrid Kragl said the result was a victory for consumers. “People do not accept to be cheated. Unfortunately these misleading practices are still legal. Foodwatch fights for making these illegal. Consumers have the right to know what they are eating; the labelling must be honest and transparent,” she said.

It has an on-going campaign entitled ‘Legal tricks’ through it which it has challenged France’s Directorate-General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Prevention of Fraud (DGCCRF) to take on its responsibilities.

Name and shame

“By naming and shaming, Foodwatch highlights the practices of the agri-food sector but also draws the politicians [and] authorities’ attention to the issues.”

Indeed foodwatch investigations showed that self-regulation – endorsed by authorities - allows food companies to mislead consumers without fear of sanction. This has to change.”

This is not the first time that consumer rights group Foodwatch, which operates in France, Germany and the Netherlands, has put the spotlight on misleading information on consumer-facing products.

Foodwatch Germany has targeted dozens of products for misleading marketing in recent years, said Kragl, and about 40% of the companies in question changed the product or marketing or removed the product from the shelves, while campaigns by the Dutch branch saw around 10 products removed from supermarket shelves. 

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