Labels Spin ‘low-carb’ Confusion

by Robert McMath
Responsible for informing, labels of products surfing the low- and no-carb wave leave consumers wondering which way is up.  
In the overcrowded “low- and no-carb” product arena, labeling confusion is rampant and it is no wonder consumers are starting to step back and say, “Wait a minute!”
Analysts who follow the marketing of foods in the United States indicate that the low-carb and no-carb trend is starting to plateau. Others who follow trends indicate that the low-carb “craze” phase is slowing down—mostly because of the glut of products in the marketplace.
In this crowded field, it is the labeling that will help push its product closer to the shopping cart. Consumers depend on the labeling to compare the products—especially when trying to adhere to a low-carb eating plan. But many labels leave consumers scratching their heads when it comes to comparing carbs.
As clear as chocolate
An example of this low-carb confusion was evident when recently comparing two products head to head. Purchased in the same supermarket in the same shopping trip were two chocolate toppings. One was an 18-ounce jar of Low-Carb Chocolate Sauce from Russell Stover, a familiar brand name for rich, chocolate candies.
On the front panel, a small oval identified Splenda sweetener. Graphics on the side of the package revealed the number of net carbs. The label also spotlighted “Zero Sugar Carbs for Low Carb Diets.”  
The nutrition facts read: Serving Size: 2 tbsp (35g), Calories 120, Calories from Fat 50, Total Fat 5g (8% DV), Saturated Fat 3.5g (6% DV), Trans Fat 0g, Cholesterol 5mg (2% DV). Carbohydrates totaled 26g (9% DV) for the Russell Stover sauce.
The other product was a 16-ounce jar of Hershey’s Hot Fudge Topping. The package did not carry any low- or no-carb claims.
The back label identified a serving size as 2 tbsp (37g), Calories 130, Fat Calories 45, Total Fat 5g (8% DV), Saturated Fat 2g (10% DV), Cholesterol 5mg (2% DV). The total carbohydrates of the Hershey’s topping was 19g (6% DV).
The Hershey’s topping had 19g of carbohydrates, while the “low-carb” Russell Stover sauce had 26g. Positioned as “low-carb”, the Russell Stover sauce actually had more carbohydrates than the Hershey’s product, which did not make a “low-carb” claim.
Consumers have become horribly confused with labeling discrepancies like this. And from time to time—to further confuse the consumer—some products prominently labeled “no-carb” have never had any carbohydrates in the first place.
Consumers in the United States love to jump on widely touted food “trend-wagons” which promise better health and a chance to catch that ever-elusive “Fountain of Youth.” So the public hops from one trend to another, looking for the easiest way out of correcting its own bad habits.  
But in the rush by marketers to jump on the current fad, product confusion, spawned by misleading labeling, is helping to kill this trend. Labels that should inform are confusing their audience.