Chip giant to support Government food scheme –

Chip giant to support Government food scheme Published:  04 September, 2006

McCain has entered the healthy eating debate

AS new Government guidelines on school meals in England demanding more fresh fish but fewer chips were introduced today, the Scarborough based frozen food giant McCain has entered the debate in a surprise manner.

The UK’s largest oven chip maker announced it is to is to put “traffic light” labels on its products as part of a £20m campaign aimed at restoring its image amid heightened concern about obesity levels. But it is also pitting itself against other big names in the food industry which are against the traffic light system.

The Canadian company’s UK chief executive, Nick Vermont, said the British market had been affected by the growing debate about obesity.

“We buy 12 per cent of Britain’s potato crop and we’re here to ensure employment and to make money. We’re not ashamed of that. In the last 18 months, the frozen potato market, from a 30- year period of almost constant growth, has stopped growing.”

The UK business is therefore looking to improve its reputation and will introduce the Food Standards Agency’s recommended traffic light labels, where green indicates healthy levels of ingredients such as fat and salt, and red very high levels. The group will also display recommended daily allowances. McCain will combine traffic lights with GDA signposting. Nick Vermont said: “We got a clear mandate from consumers to provide a combination of the two.”

Large food producers are concerned that traffic lights could cause sales of some products to plummet. Sales of Tesco’s standard prawn mayonnaise sandwiches fell 37 per cent after being labelled, while its Healthy Living prawn sandwiches rose by 46 per cent.

Humber fish processors are waiting to see how things develop. A piece of chilled or frozen haddock would clearly get the healthy eating green light, but they are worried about what will happen if the same piece of fish is coated in batter. Will it be branded by the food police as being less healthy, they are asking?

McCain said the labelling will appear first on its chip products before being phased in on other ranges. A £20m marketing campaign will then be launched, with the slogan “It’s All Good” and adverts on television, radio, in the cinema and in newspapers.

“All consumers are confused, particularly ours, about the whole debate that has been ranging – what they should eat, shouldn’t be eating, what’s good and what’s bad,” Mr Vermont said. “We want to clear up the confusion, the misconceptions, about our products. Our food has, in effect, been demonised in this debate. Chips are not per se unhealthy.”

He was not concerned, he added, about what the labelling might say about his company’s products. “A lot of people believe that chips are much higher in fat than they actually are. Every single one of our potato products has a green traffic light for saturated fat. This will be a surprising fact for many people.”

Recently Coldwater Seafoods said that the hit TV show Jamie Oliver’s School Dinners had raised the healthy eating awareness to such an extent that fish sales from its Grimsby Seachill factory had increased significantly. The Jamie Oliver effect was turning people towards fish, said the company. is published by Special Publications. Special Publications also publish FISHupdate magazine, Fish Farmer, the Fish Industry Yearbook, the Scottish Seafood Processors Federation Diary, the Fish Farmer Handbook and a range of wallplanners.