Heinz has dismissed claims that it is misleading consumers in the way it markets its Classico pasta sauces after finding itself at the receiving end of criticism from the National Consumers League (NCL) along with Del Monte and several other leading manufacturers.
The NCL has accused Heinz et al of misleading consumers by implying their products are made from fresh tomatoes when they are in fact “reconstituted from industrial tomato concentrate” and urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take action.
NCL executive director Sally Greenberg told FoodNavigator-USA.com that the FDA should go still further and extend rules requiring juice manufacturers to distinguish on labels between products made from concentrate and those not from concentrate (NFC), to all fruit and vegetable products including pasta sauces.
“Consumers understand the difference between fruit juice made from concentrate and the NFC juice but they don’t realise the same issues apply to pasta sauce.”
False and misleading claims?
The FDA should at the very least re-issue its own guidance stating that a “packed from fresh tomatoes” claim is only appropriate where all of the tomato raw material is fresh tomatoes used in a continuous processing and packaging operation (a one-step process), said Greenberg.
Implying that sauces are made from fresh tomatoes when they are made from puree or concentrate (a two step process) amounted to making false and misleading claims, she alleged.
While most of the firms singled out by the NCL did not use the term ‘fresh’ on pack, they implied that their sauces were made from fresh tomatoes through imagery and phrases such as ‘Made from California Vine-ripened Tomatoes’ when they were made from concentrate with added water, she said.
“The problem is that the FDA is pretty swamped and they are picking their battles when it comes to enforcement, so I suspect this is not top of the priority list right now.”
Heinz: In ‘full compliance’ with FDA requirements
But Heinz insisted it had not misled anyone. “We are surprised by the NCL’s claim that Classico Tomato & Basil pasta sauce is not made from ripe, red tomatoes. The two primary ingredients in are tomato puree and diced tomatoes, both of which are made from ripe, red tomatoes that are picked and processed at the peak of freshness.
“Classico takes pride in providing superior, great-tasting pasta sauces that are made from the highest quality ingredients that are in full compliance with all FDA requirements.”
Other products that NCL claims are deceptively labeled include: Del Monte Seafood Cocktail Sauce; Contadina Pizza Sauce and Contadina Puree; Francesco Rinaldi Original Traditional Pasta Sauce and Gia Russa Tomato Puree.
In a letter to the FDA, Greenberg writes: “NCL led efforts 19 years ago to define the term ‘fresh’ to differentiate products prepared directly from fresh ingredients from those made from concentrate…
“In response, the FDA defined ‘fresh’ by regulation; issued guidance on ‘packed from fresh’ tomato products; and took action against Ragu ‘Fresh Italian’ pasta sauce. We applauded those efforts.
“Nevertheless, many years later, the marketplace once again is littered with false and misleading labels for tomato products claiming to be packed or made directly from fresh tomatoes.”