Kind Snacks is challenging food companies to be more transparent about their products' health claims--but don't expect to read about it in a full-page ad.

The New York-based snack maker filed a citizen petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday calling for stricter food labeling and nutrient content regulations. Currently, the FDA allows companies to add labels like "good source of protein" when a product has enough nutrients to support the claim, but it doesn't evaluate the overall quality of the ingredients, says Kind CEO and founder, Daniel Lubetzky. Because the rules are set up this way, a sugary breakfast cereal can say it's a "good source of fiber" without telling you that a single serving contains more than half of your recommended daily sugar intake, which is misleading, he adds. The new framework Kind is proposing to the FDA would bar all products that don't meet health standards, as laid out in Lubetzky's proposed rule, from using labels to suggest they are healthy. 

The move comes exactly one week after Clif Bar, the Emeryville, California, energy bar maker, took out a full-page ad in The New York Times, challenging Kind to go organic. Kind responded to Clif Bar on social media with an image depicting one of Clif Bar's energy bars and the line "31 percent sugar" superimposed on its packaging, adding: "brown rice syrup is sugar, whether it's organic or not." Lubetzky denied the FDA petition was related to the tiff. 

"This is not a gimmick or a stunt," Lubetzky tells Inc., noting Kind spent two years developing the new framework alongside 10 leading public health experts who also co-signed the FDA petition. "It is kind of a coincidence. It is not lost on us that some companies try to pass off sugar as being healthful, and they use terms to confuse the consumer into thinking that [their products] are healthful when they're not." 

For its part, Clif Bar says it supports increasing transparency in product labels. "We think better labels enable more informed conversation," the company said in an emailed statement. It also doubled down on its call for Kind to go organic. "At Clif we are passionately committed to helping more food companies go organic. While Kind hasn't taken us up on our offer to go organic, the offer still stands. We are still willing to provide them with 10 tons of organic ingredients to get them started." 

Kind's petition asks the FDA to expand how it evaluates health claims in product labels, known as nutrient content claims, by analyzing the overall quality of the food and not just the quantity of a particular nutrient. Products eligible to add a health claim to their packaging would need to have a "meaningful" amount of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, or seeds, as recommended in the most recent dietary guidelines, and also have less than 25 percent of the recommended daily dose of saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars. It would also contain less than 1 gram of trans fat. Any product above those threshholds would be barred from making any health claims on its packaging. It would also be forced to add a front-of-label disclaimer warning consumers about its nutrition content.

"Claims on a product are designed by a company making the product to sell more food. It is not about health, it's about marketing," says Lisa Young, adjunct professor of nutrition at NYU and author of Finally Full, Finally Slim. The registered dietitian, who did not work with Kind on its proposal, says the FDA should get rid of nutrient claims altogether to avoid confusing the public and instead focus on clearer nutrient content labels. "Fruits and vegetables and whole foods that don't have packaging aren't making any claims," she adds. 

In 2015, the FDA asked Kind to remove the word "healthy" from its packaging because its products exceeded the maximum amount of total fat allowed to make that claim, according to its guidelines. Kind initially complied but later appealed the decision, arguing it was not making a nutrient content claim. The FDA reversed its decision the following year and allowed Kind to use the term "healthy" on its products.

As for the Clif/Kind fracas, while both companies have traded barbs via their corporate Twitter accounts, they have not connected offline. 

Published on: Mar 13, 2019