Kind Snacks hasn't given up on its crusade against added sugars in the snack industry.
The snack bar maker debuted on Wednesday an augmented reality installation pop-up called Sweeteners Uncovered in New York City and an online database to showcase the different sweeteners and sugar sources hidden in top-selling snacks — including many of Kind's competitors like Kellogg and General Mills.
Kind CEO Daniel Lubetzky told Food Dive that about six months ago the company was working with public health experts to file a petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to update how the agency regulates nutrient content claims on food products. He was "blown away" by the amount of sugars and sweeteners they found. This prompted Kind to launch the website and pop-up to highlight this widely-used ingredient.
The national snacking index on the website divides top selling products into four categories — snack bars, cereal, granola and yogurt — calling out the added sugars in each one. The website also offers an interactive graphic with photos of about 100 different sweeteners.
"I've been in this space for 25 years, and I was overwhelmed by these names," he said. "We thought it was an important opportunity to educate consumers about the different kinds of sweeteners and how they are named so people can make better and more informed decisions."
The pop-up in New York City will only last two days. From the outside, the pop-up looks like a bodega but inside, there are several rooms and displays for consumers to explore, according to the company. Walking through the different rooms, consumers can scan QR codes for top snacks to see their sugar content, check out a display about the different types of sweeteners and learn about the history of Kind Snacks.
In 2015, Kind announced an effort to reduce the sugar in several of its bars and has since worked to lower and remove sugar from more of its products.
"Through this campaign we are not trying to demonize sugar, we are trying to demonize deception to try to make sure people can understand what they are putting in their bodies."
CEO, Kind Snacks
This launch comes at a time when sugar has come under fire from consumers turning to healthier alternatives. According to studies published in The Lancet, 74% of packaged foods and beverages in the U.S. contain a sugar or low-calorie sweetener. It noted that one-fifth of deaths around the globe were associated with poor diets in recent years.
"It is staggering that in a country as highly developed as the United States and in many other countries, while infectious diseases are going down, inflammatory diseases are skyrocketing. There is a clear correlation to how we are eating all of this overly refined, empty calories in the form of sugars and other refined flours at the expense of our health," he said.
Stephanie Csaszar, a registered dietitian and health expert at Kind, said in a release that consumers are increasingly focused on sweeteners, but there is a lack of understanding of how to identify them on food labels.
"How can we expect consumers to know that hydrogenated starch is a mixture of sugar alcohols such as sorbitol and maltitol or that sucanat is a less-refined version of cane sugar?” Csaszar said. "Through this campaign, we aim to bring greater awareness to the 100+ name variations and types of sweeteners and sugar sources found in foods that individuals might not realize they're consuming daily."
Added sugars are already getting their own callout on Nutrition Facts label changes going into effect in 2020 and 2021. Still, Kind was one of the first snack brands to publish the added sugar content on its labels in 2016 after the changes were announced. Their efforts could push other companies to follow suit sooner, Lubetzky said.
He said people are consuming products without knowing they are rich in sugar. This new online index is intended to help educate consumers and make them more aware of what they are eating.
"Through this campaign we are not trying to demonize sugar, we are trying to demonize deception to try to make sure people can understand what they are putting in their bodies," he said.
Kind is no stranger to challenging other companies to be more transparent. Lubetzky said this index — which exposes sugar on products from companies such as Clif Bar, Kellogg's Frosted Flakes and General Mills' Nature Valley — showcases that Kind doesn't have anything to hide about its ingredients. He said Kind uses ingredients its consumers can pronounce. They also contain only 5 grams of sugar while its competitors average between 13 and 20 grams, he said.
"Of course, sugar is present in candy and sugar is present in other categories that people expect it to be, like ice cream, but sugar is also omnipresent in other categories where people are expecting to be getting nutritional solutions," Lubetzky said. "Sometimes they do get them in those categories, but sometimes they get sugar minefields."