What's In Your Fruit Snacks?

2012-04-02 | The ECO Edge

 Winnipeg Free Press

Are your kids' snacks full of fruit or sugar?
By: Sarah Schmidt

Postmedia News - Many fruit snacks on the market contain a lot of sugar and not much fruit.

 OTTAWA -- If your children won't peel an orange, maybe a picture of one on the front of "RealFruit Minis" pre-packaged snacks will appeal to them.

If rinsing real berries is too tedious, their image on a packet of "Fruit By the Foot" might get the kids eating.


And if depictions of fresh fruit don't catch the youngsters' eyes, perhaps Dora the Explorer, featured on the cover of Betty Crocker's "fruit-flavoured snacks," will do the trick.


The problem? There's no orange puree in those "RealFruit Minis." Sugar is the top ingredient in "Fruit By the Foot," which contains no berries. Corn syrup and sugar are the lead ingredients in each mini Dora.


These products are part of a growing market of prepackaged fruit snacks, their manufacturers jockeying for the attention of on-the-go parents who want their children to get enough daily servings of fruits. Some snacks rely on images of fresh fruit to draw in shoppers; others use cartoon characters.


And in an increasingly crowded market, most feature the word "fruit" on the front of their packages, usually incorporated into the product name. All a company has to do is make sure fruit puree makes up more than two per cent of the total product, and that's enough for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.


Purees are highly processed, allowing for a long shelf life but can be stripped of fibre, many vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients.

Are these snacks providing the nutrition they seem to suggest? Are parents getting what they think they're paying for?


There's no comparing fresh fruit with these snacks, says Rena Mendelson, a professor of nutrition at Ryerson University.


"You can replace the vitamins but you can't replace other attributes, like vital chemicals. So there's a big trade-off parents are making for convenience, both for attributes and also the habit-forming nature of eating fruits and vegetables," she said.


What it boils down to in this ever-expanding market, driven by entrenched brands increasing their number of offerings, is the "convenience factor," says Shannon Brown, an analyst at the consumer market research firm Packaged Facts.


"It's an easy little single size of fruit snacks. It's much easier to toss that into your kid's lunch box than cut up an apple, wrap it up, make sure there's a way to keep it cold," said Brown, who authored a recent report on snack products for her firm.


If parents do opt for these prepackaged snacks, it's best to read the fine print of the ingredients on the back of the packaging before making the purchase, says Mendelson.


Brown adds, "There's the fruit snacks made of actual pieces of fruit and there are these so-called fruit-flavoured snacks that are typically for children that are more candy than actual fruit. From the front of package, it's hard to distinguish."


Sugar is the lead ingredient in General Mills' "Fruit Gushers," which contain more than 20 ingredients. Rounding off the top five are concentrated pear puree, corn syrup, modified corn starch and fructose.


Dare's "RealFruit Minis," shaped like "wild kingdom" animals, contain "30 per cent fruit juices from concentrate and fruit puree," according to the front of the package. "Fruit juices from concentrate" is the top ingredient, and there is more glucose, sugar, and glucose-fructose than fruit purees in the mini animals resembling gummy bears.


Dare spokeswoman Kathy Khamis said there is a greater proportion of fruit juices from concentrate than purees, as shown in the claim and the ingredient list, but the company won't provide the breakdown. Calling the information proprietary, Khamis said the company follows the CFIA rule requiring an ingredient make up greater than two per cent of product for it to be highlighted.

Some companies competing for a share of the fruit snack market are hitting back, calling their competitors' products "fruit impostors."


Sun-Rype Products Ltd., based in Kelowna, B.C., doesn't have any trouble meeting the two-per-cent benchmark for its "Fruit To Go" strips. The ingredient list for its "100 per cent fruit snack" is simple: various fruit puree concentrates, various fruit juice concentrates, citrus pectin and natural flavour.


To fight against being lumped into the same category as fruit-flavoured snacks with sugar as a primary ingredient, the company promotes a website called on its packages.

The site asks, "If your fruit snack isn't 100 per cent fruit, what is it?"


Gelatin, hydrogenated and modified oils, sodium benzoate, tartrazine, sodium citrate, sulphites, methyl paraben and dextrose, also known as glucose or corn sugar, are among the ingredients listed that SunRype notes it isn't using.


Meanwhile, General Mills is facing a class action suited filed recently in California by a consumer advocacy group.


The Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has an office in Ottawa, is accusing the company of presenting its Fruit Gushers, Fruit-O-Long, Fruit By the Foot and Fruit Roll-Ups as "healthful and nutritious" when they are "little better than giving candy to children," according to the complaint filed in court.


-- Postmedia News


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 31, 2012 A17