Apologies now: this one is a bit of a moan. However, I am becoming increasingly irritated with discovering inconsistencies between the information a food company puts on its product labels, compared to the information on their website. Two examples from today alone: John Lewis snowmen and Duerr’s mincemeat.
Label says contains nuts; website says “nut free”
Last week, whilst researching nut free Christmas food, I was heartened to see that the John Lewis website allows you to filter your search results by “Dietary requirements”. Ticking the “nut free” box, I was almost gleeful at the sight of how many chocolate options there were for those with nut allergies. Chocolate coins, chocolate snowmen, pralines … wait a second … PRALINES?
I clicked onto the product description for the Hotel Chocolat H-Box Praline Selection and, sure enough, the description read:
“The duo of nuts and chocolate in this selection box will have you wanting to go back for more. From flavours like double nut, pistachio, pecan and chilli…”.
Clearly there was a glitch with the search facility on the John Lewis website. I tweeted John Lewis on 30 November, to alert them to this and the potential danger. They replied that their web team would change it. As at today’s date (11 December 2013), pralines are still coming up as a nut free option.
I went to my local John Lewis today to pick up some chocolate coins (which I’m pleased to report are labelled nut free). I thought I would grab some chocolate snowmen (pictured) too whilst there. There is no mention of nuts in the website product description, and it actually also states “May contain nuts: NO”. So it was maddening to discover that, rather than being “nut free”, the snowmen actually CONTAIN hazelnut as an ingredient!
Label silent; website says “may contain nuts”
Then, I had the opposite issue with Duerr’s mincemeat. I picked up a jar at my local shop. Read the label, saw no mention of nuts. There were no nuts listed in the ingredients. There was no label saying “may contain nuts” (or similar warning wording). I bought the jar. I came home. I double checked on the Duerr’s website and I found this:
“May contain traces of nuts”! Now, I appreciate “may contain” labelling is currently voluntary (and will continue to be so, when the new labelling regulations are in force from December 2014). However, if a company can put “may contain” information on its website, why can’t it also print a warning on the product label itself?
It may well be that the information on the Duerr’s website is out of date, and their mincemeat is no longer at risk of accidental cross-contamination (hence they’ve removed the wording from their mincemeat labels). I am checking and will post an update when I receive a reply.
Making sense of “may contain” labels
I’ve written before about how my family approaches “may contains”. In short, if a product says “may contain nuts”, it doesn’t get as far as the supermarket trolley. If it’s silent, I make a judgement call based on what I know of the brand (for example, are they a company who say “if there’s no may contain label, it means that we are confident the product is nut free”). If it’s a new brand for me, I check with the manufacturer.
But should we really have to go to these lengths?
Food companies: how hard can it be to ensure that your food label and your website relay a consistent message?
Update (16 December 2013): Duerr’s response
Good news! I contacted Duerr’s about the “may contain” information on their website. They replied extremely quickly to confirm that the description on the website will be updated. Whilst Duerr’s previously made mincemeat containing tree nuts, they haven’t done so for a couple of years. They advised me that their “new” mincemeat (sold in jars with “mincemeat” written in red joined up writing on the label) “does not require a nut warning as there is no possibility of cross contamination; the production site is a nut free site”. They also advised that they have also built a separate facility for processing their peanut butter.