Consumer rights group Foodwatch has named and shamed seven food companies and grocers it alleges are misleading French consumers with products providing too much packaging and too little content.

The Berlin-based organisation, which says it “fights for safe, healthy and affordable food for all,” has highlighted food products from Barilla, Sojasun and Léa Nature as well as own-brand products from retailers Monoprix, Carrefour and E. Leclerc. It says manufacturers are selling “empty products” and has also pinpointed a tea product sold by Unilever-owned Lipton.

The non-profit organisation says it is responding to complaints from consumers and has launched a petition to “put an end to this abuse”. 

Foodwatch said: “In the organisation’s mailbox, there were quite a few pictures and exasperated messages showing tiny amounts of food packed in disproportionately large packages, all filled with ‘voids’. 

“The Foodwatch team went to supermarkets to check and, above all, to compare the products with each other. Many brands competing with those pinned today quite manage to fill the packaging to the top or almost. Those who abuse and mislead consumers therefore seem to have no excuse.”

Foodwatch said the alleged practices give the consumer “the unpleasant feeling of being had and of being an aberration for the environment”.

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Amongst the products the campaigners highlighted for being over-packaged and underfilled are a Barilla’s quinoa product, Léa Nature’s organic tabbouleh and Sojasun’s soy steak.

Camille Dorioz, Foodwatch campaign manager, said: “Consumers are tired of being fooled and, in addition, very logically want to reduce their waste. It is an environmental concern but also a financial one. Because the products are relatively expensive if we look at their price per kilo.”

Dorioz described packs that are “barely filled, revealing the rather ridiculous amount of product” and added “offering unnecessarily large packaging is not illegal, but it is time to put an end to these abusive practices”. 

Foodwatch has contacted the companies concerned asking them to commit to reducing the use and size of packaging for their products to the strict minimum. 

In the event a significant ‘void’ is necessary, perhaps for reasons of food protection, Foodwatch is calling for a “clear and transparent justification for the actual quantities of product sold”.

just-food has asked the food companies singled out to respond to Foodwatch’s criticism.

A spokesperson for Barilla said: “The Barilla Group has committed to a vast programme to reduce its environmental impact, which also aims to reduce the size and weight of its packaging. As such, in 2020, 99,7% of the Group’s packaging is 100% designed to recycle (100% in 2021). In addition, 100% of the paper and cardboard used to package Barilla products is FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes) and SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) certified. 

“The size of the packaging of our Cereali & Quinoa is directly linked to securing the quality of the product and can mostly be explained by technical elements linked to the physical characteristics of the cereals and their sensitivity to oxidation, the volatility of the grains, which can bounce a lot during packaging, and the necessity to guarantee the freshness of the product, which is packed in a protective atmosphere. This necessitates inflating the bag in which the grains are packed, and thus a bigger carton pack.”