Percy Pigs packaging 'wilfully misleading', says obesity campaigner

29 July 2020, 10:19 | Updated: 29 July 2020, 14:11

Obesity campaigner takes aim at Percy Pigs

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The packaging for Percy Pigs has been labelled "wilfully misleading" by the leader of a national obesity campaign.

Henry Dimbleby, who wrote the report for the National Food Strategy, criticised Marks & Spencer for its Percy Pig sweets for marketing them as containing all-natural fruit juice.

Speaking at the launch of the government-ordered review, the founder of Leon said the first four ingredients listed on the packaging are forms of sugar such as fructose syrup and glucose-fructose syrup.

He also attacked the supermarket for putting the sweets "right by your kids' little fingers" while admitting he has had a "bugbear" about Percy Pigs for a while.

"I just think that is not right," he told reporters about the packaging.

"I think that is genuinely misleading.

"And actually, when you look at the food world, the reason I pick M&S is because they have integrity as one of their values, but it is rampant in the food world - you know, low fat (food) which is actually high in sugar, or free from this and that."

Percy Pig packaging has been branded wilfully misleading by an obesity campaign
Percy Pig packaging has been branded wilfully misleading by an obesity campaign. Picture: Marks & Spencer

Mr Dimbleby also accused Marks & Spencer and the modern food industry of "egregiously... clothing itself, and its products, in false virtue."

The strategy report says: "‘No artificial colours or artificial flavourings’ trills the packaging for Percy Pig, the ‘soft gums made with fruit juice’… How many parents take the time to check the ingredients list? If they did, they might (assuming they know how ingredient lists work) be agog to find that the three largest ingredients by weight are glucose syrup, sugar and glucose-fructose-syrup.

“I single out Marks & Spencer here, not because it is the biggest sinner, but because it is such a well-trusted company. A British institution, M&S has the pledge ‘we always strive to do the right thing’ as one of its guiding principles.

"If M&S – which is a great deal more scrupulous than many food companies – is guilty of such trickery, you can be sure the practice is ubiquitous."

NHS GP and trainer Simon Tobin described the packaging for the Marks & Spencer sweets as "appalling."

He wrote on Twitter: "Shocked to see @marksandspencer marketing Percy Pig sweets as “made with fruit juice”.

"The 1st 3 ingredients are glucose syrup, sugar + glucose-fructose syrup. We’re in a global pandemic where poor metabolic health is linked to poor outcomes.

"This is appalling. Shame on you."

The National Food Strategy report also singles out the smoothie and juice company Innocent for its lemon and lime-flavoured Juicy Water that claims to have "no added sugar" but does not mention the eight teaspoons-worth of natural sugars from grapes and pears.

The British businessman urged CEOs "to take a look at what they're doing" and not just bow "to commercial pressures."

He accused them of "bobbing about on the waters of commerce, unable to take any value-based decisions."

"I think it's time they realised that they have been putting their head in the sand for too long," he said.

In response, an M&S spokesperson said: “All our products have clear labelling so that customers can make informed choices about what they buy.

"All our Percy Pigs are made with natural fruit juices and no artificial colours or flavourings and last year we also introduced a range of Percy Pigs with one third less sugar.”