Percy Pig sweets have been criticised by obesity campaigners - here's why

The three ingredients with the highest quantities are glucose syrup, sugar and glucose-fructose syrup. (Shutterstock)
The three ingredients with the highest quantities are glucose syrup, sugar and glucose-fructose syrup. (Shutterstock)

Marks & Spencer’s signature Percy Pig sweets have been criticised by an obesity campaign for claiming “false virtue” with misleading labelling.

Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of Leon Restaurants and creator of the National Food Strategy, has criticised M&S and the sweet treat for its “genuinely misleading” packaging, which he says suggests the sweets are healthier than they are.

The criticism comes as the government revealed its strategy to tackle obesity on Monday 27 July. Part of its plans included more transparency from calorie labelling, such as on alcoholic drinks and restaurant menus.

Why have Percy Pig sweets been accused of ‘false virtue’?

The popular sweet has previously received praise for changing its ingredients to become completely vegetarian last year, and undergoing a cut in sugar. The packaging reads, “Made with real fruit juice” alongside, “No artificial colours or flavourings.”

However, obesity campaigners claim that these phrases may sound healthy, but they hide the fact that eating too many of the sweets could prove harmful for your health and your teeth, as they contain too much sugar.

Too much natural sugar is bad for your health, but confectionery packaging can highlight the lack of added sugar to suggest the snack is a healthy alternative. Natural sugars are still harmful to your health.

The first three items on the list of ingredients for a packet of Percy Pigs are also the three ingredients with the highest quantities, which are glucose syrup, sugar and glucose-fructose syrup.

The ingredients listed afterwards include sugars, or are made from sugar, such as fruit juice from concentrates that contains natural sugars and inverse sugar syrup, which is a mixture of glucose and fructose that is created from table sugar with water.

What did the National Food Strategy say about Percy Pigs?

“I just think that is not right. I think that is genuinely misleading,” said Dimbleby at the launch of his National Food Strategy.

Additionally, the National Food Strategy said, “One of the most egregious sins of the modern food industry is its habit of clothing itself, and its products, in false virtue.

“‘Low fat’ often means high starch, but it never says so. The words ‘free from’ and ‘less’ are sprinkled around without context. ‘Free from’ refined sugar, but rigid with fruit sugars?

“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.”

How did M&S respond?

A spokesperson for M&S 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.”