Sat. Dec 9th, 2023

Desqualification is a strategy used by agri-food companies in particular to reduce their production costs by modifying the recipe or the ingredients of their products.

People campaign against hidden deskilling

Quaker Dipps bars no longer contain real chocolate, but rather a “chocolate coating”. This is an example of deskilling.

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After re-flation, it is the turn of de-qualification to be the target of criticism from consumers concerned by these commercial stratagems which give the impression of getting less for one's money. The Trudeau government promises to investigate this practice, but experts say immediate measures are necessary.

In most cases, substitutions of ingredients are virtually imperceptible. However, recipe changes for certain foods leave traces.

Last year, Daniel Noël was surprised by the taste of a Quaker Dipps chocolate granola bar, a product he purchased frequently.

The snack seemed to have passed its expiration date, he confided by email.

However, a comparison with another packaging recent release of the same product allowed him to discover the real culprit.

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Quaker Dipps bar wrappers before and after the recipe change.< /p>

Dipps bars lost their milk chocolate coating in favor of a chocolate coating made from a less expensive fat: palm oil.

The amount of protein per bar has also halved while the saturated fat and sodium content has increased by 40% and 16% respectively.

I feel like I've been had. It's not the same product. It no longer tastes the same.

A quote from Daniel Noël, resident of Sherbrooke

Pepsico, which owns the Quaker brand, did not respond to questions from CBC/Radio-Canada.

If she hadn't seen the two packages of Dipps bars next to each other, Tammy Norton admits that 'she would never have noticed the change in recipe.

However, this resident of Cannington, Ontario, will no longer buy this snack which contains palm oil rather than cocoa butter.

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Tammy Norton and her two children at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto.

It's certainly not something I would want to give to my children, she says without hesitation.

I think this is a misleading technique. [Producers] try to offer a product that costs them less and they are not honest with consumers.

A quote from Tammy Norton, mother

In addition to irritating consumers, deskilling raises health questions, according to Pascal Thériault, agroeconomist and professor at McGill University.

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Pascal Thériault is vice-president of the Order of Agronomists of Quebec and professor at the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences of the McGill University. (File photo)

This could cause a risk for the consumer in certain specific cases, for example a food allergy to certain ingredients, he notes.

The Canadian Agency Food Inspection Agency confirms that producers do not have to disclose changes to their recipes other than by updating the list of ingredients on their product packaging.

Consumers with food allergies should read food labels every time they purchase something because ingredients can change without notice, a spokesperson for the federal agency added by email.

This recommendation is however very far from the reality of most people, believes dietitian Jennifer Lee.

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Jennifer Lee is a doctoral candidate in nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto.

The average consumer doesn't spend more than a few seconds making their [food] choices when they go to the grocery store, she argues. In his eyes, producers should be forced to clearly display all changes made to the ingredients of their products.

Public resentment over food inflation prompted the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, François-Philippe Champagne, to summon the bosses of the food giants in the country.

Following these meetings, the federal minister committed to taking immediate and decisive measures to defend the interests of consumers, he indicated in a press release.

In particular, it provides for the creation of a working group on grocery stores which will investigate reduflation and deskilling, practices that the minister considers harmful to consumers.

At the time of publishing these lines, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada had not responded to questions from Radio-Canada regarding the objectives of these surveys, their deadlines and the possibility that they lead to legislative changes.

In any case, Yves Perron, spokesperson for the Bloc Québécois on agriculture, describes Minister Champagne's measures as a mock spectacle.

For him, the priority should be to increase competition in the agri-food industry which, through mergers and acquisitions, has been consolidated in the hands of a few big players.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">He believes that the Trudeau government should at least consider new regulations that would henceforth require manufacturers to clearly display ingredient substitutions in their recipes.

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This measure would be similar to a remedy used by the federal government to protect consumers from foods potentially harmful to their health.

Last year , Ottawa announced new labeling rules which will require, by 2026, the use of a distinctive sign on the front of packages of foods high in sugar, salt and saturated fat.

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Certain foods will escape the new labeling regulations. This is the case, among others, for milk, butter, cheese and ground meat. (File photo)

From supply issues to changing consumer preferences, recipe changes in the food industry happen for many reasons, according to nutrition expert Vasanti Malik. /p>

In his view, it would therefore be impractical and potentially prohibitive to require producers to alert their customers each time they substitute one ingredient for another in the manufacturing of their products.

This is not a realistic strategy. It's each person's [responsibility] to look at ingredient lists.

A quote from Vasanti Malik, professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto

Dietitian Jennifer Lee points out, however, that companies must already update the list of ingredients on labels when they modify their recipes. Informing their customers of these changes would therefore not represent a major additional effort, according to her.

The more [the manufacturers] communicate these changes to consumers, the better they will be able to build a bond of trust with consumers, argues Ms. Lee.

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Grocers and food companies have been the target of criticism in a context high food inflation. (Stock image)

Edgar Dworsky, who maintains a blog where he lists cases of reduflation and deskilling, however, emphasizes that agri-food companies are above all influenced by the opinion of their customers.

This defender of consumer rights invites those who observe a substitution of ingredients which alters the quality of a product to complain to the manufacturer.

That's what many American consumers did when Conagra changed the recipe of its Smart Balance margarine by reducing its fat content by 39%.

A few hundred negative comments on the company's website were enough to force the return of the original recipe.

The Consumers mobilized and the company gave in, Mr. Dworsky rejoices.

With information from Sophia Harris (CBC) and< /em> de Philippe de Montigny

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