I find Nutella a fascinating product from a marketing perspective. If you look at the nutrition label, you'll see that 42 percent of the hazelnut and cocoa spread is sugar. (Actually, the nutrition panel doesn't tell you that 42 percent of it is added sugar; you need to do the math. Nutella has 200 calories per 2-tablespoon serving and 21 grams of sugar per serving.)
It may be difficult to figure out how much of the product is sugar, but if you know that a gram of sugar has 4 calories, you can do the math. When a food consists of chocolate and a lot of sugar, I'm not sure why consumers would think it's anything but a dessert. Perhaps it's because people listen to marketing and don't look at nutrition labels.
Nutella is often marketed as something you spread on toast or pancakes or fruit, as you can see in this commercial above.
Of course, this type of marketing has gotten Nutella into trouble before. In 2012, a mom who had listened to the TV commercials — which prompted her to spread Nutella on whole wheat toast and feed it to her children — finally read the nutrition label. She was "shocked" to discover that Nutella was more candy than health-food, so she sued Ferraro USA (the owners of Nutella) for false advertising. She won.
See? It's fascinating. I don't understand how she won! It's chocolate and sugar with some hazelnuts and skim milk thrown in — and it's all right there on the nutrition label.
Nutella is asking the Food and Drug Agency (FDA) to change the product's classification from a dessert topping to a spread like honey, jam or fruit butter, reports NPR. The company's rationale is that Nutella is consumed like those products, according to its customers. If the FDA won't say it's a spread, Ferraro is asking the FDA create a new "nut- and cocoa-based spreads" category.
How much do you put on your plate?
So why does it matter? The serving size for a spread is 1 tablespoon. The serving size for a dessert topping is 2 tablespoons. If Nutella gets the classification change its asking for, when people turn over the package to look at the nutrition label, the calories per serving will be shown as 100 calories instead of 200 calories. Of course, the product will still have the same number of calories, but for people who don't think it through or don't pay attention to how much a serving size is, 100 calories seems a lot better than 200. If you take a good look at the commercial above, the amount of Nutella spread on a pancake certainly looks like more than 2 tablespoons to me. If the serving size is decreased to one tablespoon, what are the chances the visuals in the commercial will change?
The fact that a food company is trying to make its product look as nutritionally smart as possible is not surprising, but I find it fascinating that the FDA has opened the topic up for public comment. Is this a big enough decision to get the public's input?
Yes. When the FDA "plans to issue a new regulation or revise an existing one, it places an announcement in the Federal Register on the day the public comment period begins," according to fda.gov. The government agency is doing for Nutella what it would do for any other product.
That's what I find fascinating, because that means you, or me, or anyone can comment and influence the FDA's decision about whether or not Nutella gets to be a spread instead of a dessert topping.
But in the end, what will that change? Nothing but the perception of people who don't understand or pay attention to nutrition labels. The amount of sugar and calories will remain the same.