Suppliers are up in arms after it emerged Public Health England’s new Sugar Smart barcode app is riddled with errors.
The Change4Life barcode scanner, launched last week, shot to the top of the iTunes free chart, with 700,000-plus downloads to date. However, The Grocer has learnt at least half a dozen major companies have accused PHE of displaying wrong information for a raft different lines, including some with massively distorted sugar levels.
“Some of the information is inaccurate and presented in a way which may mislead users,” said FDF chief executive Ian Wright. “One major soft drink company has told us the app revealed sugar levels in one of their SKUs at more than five times the actual content per pack.
Packs ‘should carry calorie burn-off info’
Front-of-pack labelling should carry information on the amount of activity required to burn off calories, according to the latest health campaign.
The Royal Society for Public Health claimed “activity equivalent” calorie labelling, taking the form of prominent pictorial icons, would help people who find existing labels too confusing. The Society said many people were suffering from “information overload” when it came to making healthy purchasing decisions, with its research suggesting 63% would support the new labels, with 53% saying it would cause them to make positive behaviour changes such as choosing healthier products, eating smaller portions or doing more physical exercise.
“Activity equivalent calorie labelling provides a simple means of making the calories contained within food and drink more relatable to people’s everyday lives, while also gently reminding consumers of the need to maintain active lifestyles and a healthy weight,” said chef executive Shirley Cramer.
“A leading cereal producer complained a number of its SKUs showed incorrect information when scanned, including one showing sugar content at a level it hasn’t been for three years.”
For other products, the app shows information for totally different items from the same range. “We haven’t found one barcode scan that has generated up-to-date correct nutritional info,” said one supplier, while another added: “The nutrition information is out of date and is not reflective of what is currently in the market.”
PHE, which is spending £5m on marketing Sugar Smart, admitted inaccuracies on the app, which is backed by Aldi, Asda, The Co-op, Morrisons and Tesco. However, it claimed it was down to suppliers to put them right.
A spokesman for PHE said “obviously stuff needs to be updated” but added PHE had written in the app’s terms and conditions that “we are not in a position to verify this information” and that “we exclude all liability”.
It has emerged the app was developed using data from the Foodswitch app launched by campaign group Action on Sugar last year and was not checked by PHE prior to launch.
The PHE spokesman said it was now working with companies to correct the mistakes. He stressed doing so would not be “an onerous task” for suppliers, but the form PHE plans to use to update the app data, seen by The Grocer, requires companies to submit 17 different pieces of information per product. “We’ve got 1,000 SKUs-plus, what they are asking would be a massive administrative task,” said one supplier.
“We welcome ongoing input from manufacturers and retailers to keep the data behind the app as up to date as possible,” said Sheila Mitchell, director of marketing at Public Health England.
“They can email email@example.com to do this. We will send them a simple data template to return to us and the information will be updated at the first opportunity. We’ve invited companies who have let us know product information needs updating to send the new information for inclusion in the next data update. One major retailer has already sent us around 3000 new lines of product data since the launch,” she added.
“Keeping consumers informed is at the heart of this app. The app clearly states that the information is based on total sugar, mirroring what is on product labels. While the app focuses on total sugar, Change4Life campaigns support front of pack labelling and we encourage consumers to read the label throughout our communications.
“We’ve had positive and supportive feedback from the public and from a range of public health organisations. We’re working with manufacturers and retailers to increase and update products on the app so it continues to be useful in helping parents make healthier choices.”