Kind asks FDA to restrict nutrient claims to food with health-promoting ingredients
- Kind Healthy Snacks filed a petition to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration pushing the agency to update how it regulates nutrient content claims on food products. The petition was co-signed by 10 public health experts.
- Currently, the regulation examines the quantity of a nutrient in the food and not the quality, which Kind claims "enables food marketers to put these claims on unhealthy products." Kind is urging the FDA to only permit these nutritional claims on products that have a "meaningful amount of at least one health-promoting food," like vegetables, legumes, fruits, whole grains, seeds or nuts.
- "Nutrient content claims, such as 'good source of fiber' or 'excellent source of protein,' are found on the front of food packaging and often abused on empty calorie foods," Kind Founder and CEO Daniel Lubetzky told Food Dive in an email. "After consulting with foremost health and nutrition experts, we decided now was the time to act."
Consumers are increasingly reaching for products with nutritional claims — and companies are hoping to take advantage. But Kind — which is best known for its bars made with ingredients like nuts, grains and dried fruits — wants to restrict who can say their products are good for you.
Kind is arguing that some products like cereals, snacks and frozen foods misuse nutrient content claims and leave out their less healthy aspects. Limiting the use of those claims to companies that use health-promoting ingredient would inevitably benefit Kind's business. Granola sales were down last year as consumers questioned how healthy they were. If Kind is able to secure nutrient claims for its nut-filled bars and limit those terms on other products, Kind's products can better stand out to consumers.
This isn’t the first time that Kind has challenged and petitioned the FDA. In 2015, the FDA sent Kind a warning letter saying its bars shouldn't be labeled "healthy" because they had too much saturated fat — a natural component of the nuts in the bars.
Kind pushed back with a petition urging FDA to update its regulations around the term, which was largely based on fat content and excluded natural items like nuts. FDA reversed its stance, allowing Kind to use the "healthy" label on its products and announcing FDA would reevaluate its definition of the term.
The agency started the process of updating the definition of "healthy" in 2016, opening a public comment period and holding hearings to get feedback on the definition. Not much progress has been made since then. President Trump's FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said last year that defining the term was a priority. However, last week Gottlieb abruptly announced he would be stepping down from his post, casting uncertainty over the issues that were his priorities.
"After researching the issue and understanding more about the impact these claims have on consumers, we decided to speak up again," Stephanie Csaszar, health and wellness expert and a registered dietitian at Kind, told Food Dive in an email. "We're hopeful that our latest petition will advance FDA's thinking as they gear up to finalize the 'healthy' definition and deliver on their commitment to modernize nutrition claims."
Kind's petition references both the FDA’s 2018 Strategic Policy Roadmap, through which Gottlieb planned to help consumers make more educated dietary decisions, and the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which emphasized avoiding sugars above fats. Kind argues that changing the nutrient content claims would be in line with these updates.
Since Kind started its business in 2004, the company has tried to define its snacks with healthy claims. And though most of the company's products are made with less processed and more natural ingredients, Kind is still trying to improve. Most recently, the company launched smaller 100-calorie pack versions of its products.
It might be difficult to get anything done at FDA while the agency is in transition. A new acting commissioner has been named to take over after Gottlieb leaves his post next month, but nobody has been nominated to take the position permanently. However, considering that the first meeting of the committee considering the 2020 updates to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is later this month, the timing is ideal to encourage members to talk about the issue and perhaps enshrine it in the guidance.
If Kind can gets the FDA on board with this petition, some CPG companies might need to drastically change their labels. But despite the end result, it's likely that Kind will continue pushing the industry to clarify its definitions and rework its nutrient claims.
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