‘Fruit’ snacks can be deceptive treats

If your children won’t peel an orange, maybe a picture of one on the front of Real Fruit Minis 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-flavored snacks, will do the trick.

The problem? There’s no orange purée 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 packaged 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 purée makes up more than two per cent of the total product, and that’s enough for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

HIGHLY PROCESSED

Purées are highly processed, allowing for a long shelf life but can be stripped of fiber, 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.

Brown adds, “There’s the fruit snacks made of actual pieces of fruit and there are these so-called fruit-flavored snacks that are typically for children that are more candy than actual fruit. From the front of pack-age, 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 purée, 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 purée,” 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 purées in the mini animals resembling gummy bears.

MORE JUICE THAN PURÉES

Dare spokeswoman Kathy Khamis said there is a greater proportion of fruit juices from concentrate than purées, 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, 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 purée concentrates, various fruit juice concentrates, citrus pectin and natural flavor.

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

The site asks, “If your fruit snack isn’t 100 per cent fruit, what is it?” It includes pictures of ingredients in petri dishes and beakers, each containing a pop-up about how it is “found in some ‘fruit’ snacks” and is an “ingredient Sun-Rype doesn’t use.”

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 Sun-Rype notes it isn’t using.

“There are a lot of ‘fruit impostors’ out there that pre-tend to be wholesome but instead of being 100 per cent fruit, most have sugar as the main ingredients plus artificial colors, artificial flavors, artificial or chemical preservatives and fillers,” said Barb Broder, Sun-Rype’s group marketing manager of food.

DISTINGUISH ITS SNACKS

Welch’s is also trying to distinguish its fruit snacks with a message on its website that says: “We put the fruit in fruit snacks: Welch’s fruit snacks are made with REAL fruit and fruit juices.”

The lead ingredients in Welch’s “berries ‘n cherries fruit snacks” – white grape purée, strawberry purée, apple purée and raspberry purée – are followed by corn syrup, sugar, modified corn starch, gelatin, citric acid, natural and artificial flavors, coconut oil, carnauba wax and colors.

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.

Toronto mother Dawn Wood-ward, for one, won’t be buying Fruit Gushers or any other pre-packaged fruit snacks for her six-year-old daughter any time soon.

“You might as well be eating sugar. To me, there’s no nutritional value. It’s so easy just to give her an apple or make her a smoothie with yogurt and frozen blueberries. It’s become just second nature. We just don’t buy them,” said Woodward.

HOW MUCH FRUIT IS THERE IN FRUIT SNACKS?

An entire area of the grocery store is reserved for “fruit snacks” and “fruit-flavored snacks,” with most incorporating the word “fruit” in their product name. Here is how some of them stack up to actual fruit. The percentages represent the daily recommended intake of a nutrient in a single serving.

THE SNACKS

FRUIT BY THE FOOT

Top ingredients: Sugar and/ or golden sugar, maltodextrin, concentrated pear purée

Calories: 80 (1 roll) Fat: 2 g

Carbs: 6 per cent

Sugars: 9 g

Fiber: 0 per cent

Vitamin C: 20 per cent

Iron: 0 per cent

DORA THE EXPLORER FRUIT FLAVOURED SNACKS

Top ingredients: Corn syrup, sugar, concentrated apple and pear juice

Calories: 80 (1 pouch)

Fat: 0 g

Carbs: 6 per cent

Sugars: 12 g

Fiber: 0 per cent Vitamin C: 25 per cent

Iron: 0 per cent

Dare RealFruit Minis: “30 per cent fruit juices from concentrate and fruit purée”

Top ingredients: Fruit juices from concentrate, glucose, sugar.

Calories: 80 (1 pouch)

Fat: 0 per cent

Carbs: 7 per cent

Fiber: 0 per cent

Sugar: 13 g Vitamin C: 0 per cent

Iron: 0 per cent

WELCH’S FRUIT SNACKS BERRIES ‘N CHERRIES “MADE WITH FRUIT”

Top ingredients: White grape purée, strawberry purée, apple purée

Calories: 80 (1 pouch)

Fat: 0 per cent

Carbs: 6 per cent

Fibre: 0 per cent

Sugars: 9 g

Vitamin C: 0 per cent

Iron: 0 per cent

Sun-Rype Fun Bites “100 per cent fruit snack”

Top ingredients: Apple and/or pear raspberry purée concentrates, citrus pectin

Calories: 45 (1 pouch)

Fat: 0 per cent

Carbs: 4 per cent

Fiber: 4 per cent

Sugars: 11 g

Vitamin C: 2 per cent

Iron: 0 per cent

REAL FRUIT

APPLE (LARGE)

Calories: 130 Fat: 0 per cent Carbs: 11 per cent Fibre: 20 per cent Sugars: 25 g Vitamin C: 8 per cent Iron: 2 per cent Bonus: Apples contain antioxidants called flavonoids, which may help lower the chance of developing diabetes and asthma. They also help clean your teeth.

BANANA (MEDIUM)

Calories: 110

Fat: 0 per cent

Carbs: 10 per cent Fiber: 12 per cent

Sugars: 19 per cent

Vitamin C: 15 per cent

Iron: 2 per cent

Bonus: Bananas are also source of vitamin B6 and folate, and contain more potassium than most fruit and may help lower blood pressure levels.

BLUEBERRIES (1 CUP)

Calories: 84

Fat: 0 per cent

Carbs: 7 per cent

Fiber: 14 per cent

Vitamin C: 24 per cent

Iron: 2 per cent

Bonus: Blueberries are some-times called “super fruits” for their antioxidant properties.

Blueberries are an excellent source of manganese.

ORANGE (MEDIUM)

Calories: 80

Fat: 0 per cent

Carbs: 6 per cent

Fiber: 12 per cent

Sugar: 14 g

Vitamin C: 130 per cent

Iron: 0 per cent

Bonus: Oranges are a good source of folate. They also contain a phytochemical called hesperidin, which may lower cholesterol levels.

STRAWBERRIES (4 MEDIUM)

Calories: 25 Fat: 0 per cent

Carbs: 2 per cent

Fiber: 4 per cent

Sugar: 4 per cent

Vitamin C: 80 per cent

Iron: 1 per cent

Bonus: Strawberries are rich in several antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties, including helping to prevent hardened arteries.

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