Campaign group calls for end to child-friendly packaging on high sugar foods

There is an “evident loophole” in rules allowing brands to create “pester power” for sugary products through packaging which appeals to children, says Action on Sugar.

High and medium sugar food should not have packaging that is appealing to children, says campaign group Action on Sugar, calling out an “evident loophole” in rules to prevent brands targeting children with such products.

The organisation has found dozens of examples of cereal and yogurts that contain “unnecessary amounts of sugar” and have packaging that targets children through the use of cartoons, characters and vibrant colours.

Action on Sugar says brands and retailers may be aiming to create “pester power” for these products and is calling for the complete removal of this kind of packaging on high and medium sugar foods, stating it should instead be used on healthy alternatives.

There are rules in place to ensure advertising for foods high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) are not targeted at children. The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) code states HFSS product ads should not be targeted at under 16s through the selection of media or the context in which they appear.

In 2025, a law is set to be introduced which will ban the advertising of HFSS foods before 9pm on TV and impose restrictions on paid-for online advertising, with the aim of reducing children’s overconsumption of these products.

There are also restrictions on where HFSS items can be displayed in-store, as well as incoming rules around promotions on these products.

Action on Sugar says there is an “evident loophole”, as there are no similar restrictions around sugary products which appeal to children through packaging.

Incoming in-store HFSS restrictions could lead to ‘huge swings’ in category share

Between 2016 and 2020, the government ran a sugar reduction programme, which challenged all sectors of the food industry to reduce sugar in foods children consume most by 20%.

Action on Sugar says breakfast cereal and yogurt brands “celebrated” their reductions in sugar between 2015 and 2020. However with reductions at 14.9% and 13.5% respectively, this is still shy of the 20% target given.

The campaign group assessed cereals and yogurts with packaging appealing to children and found almost half (47%) of cereals contain one third of a four- to six-year-old’s daily maximum sugars recommendation (five teaspoons) in just one bowl.

Out of the brands and retailers surveyed, discounter Lidl had the highest average sugar content in its cereals which had packaging appealing to children. On average, its cereal contained 21g of sugar per 100g. The next worst offender was Nestlé, with 20g of sugar per 100g, followed by Aldi, with 19.2g of sugar per 100g.

Companies’ average sugars content per 100g in cereals with child-appealing packaging

Companies No. of products Average Sugars per 100g (g)
Lidl 12 21.0
Nestlé 15 20.0
Aldi 23 19.2
Weetabix 5 18.2
Kellogg’s 14 18.2
Morrisons 7 17.8
Asda 13 17.1
Sainsbury’s 10 16.0
Tesco 17 15.4

*With five or more products surveyed. Source: Action on Sugar

Almost two-thirds (65%) of yogurts that appeal to children through their packaging were found to contain one-third of a four- to six-year-old’s daily maximum sugar intake in one recommended serving. Nestlé, Lidl and Aldi were again the worst offenders in this category.

“There is no reason why products with high or medium levels of salt or sugar should be marketed as ‘suitable for children’,” says Action on Sugar nutritionist, Zoe Davies.

“If we are to protect the health of our future generation, then bold action is required now from both government and companies alike and this must include child-friendly packaging only being placed on healthier products.”