Sugar in my Chicken Part 2: Marks and Spencer Respond
Marks and Spencer Chicken - They Respond Once More (Part 3)
Marks and Spencer Chicken - the Final Word (Part 4)
On Friday I received a response from UK Retailer Marks and Spencer to my post Why is there Sugar in my Chicken?
In that post I published my correspondence with M&S on the reasons for sugar and salt being added to their roasted chicken. I included an open letter to M&S, in which I asked why they could not simply sell plain chicken and allow consumers to add flavouring or seasoning themselves.
When I emailed M&S to tell them about the post, I copied the chairman and CEO of M&S, Sir Stuart Rose, whose email I found on the web. The response I received came from ‘The Executive Chairman’s Office’:
Thank you for your email of 10 September and for your patience whilst we have been looking into your concerns. I have been in touch with our food department in order to provide you with a more detailed response.
Marks & Spencer leads the market in the removal of additives and artificial colourings and flavourings from food. All of our food is 100% artificial colourings and flavourings free, and we do not use Aspartame in any of our products.
In May 2007 we banned additives particularly associated with concerns about food intolerance and children’s diets including artificial colours such as Ponceau 4R, Sunset Yellow, Carmosine and Quinoline Yellow which are used in cakes and bakery. We actually do not use over half of the additives permitted by the EU including Monosodium Glutamate and Tartrazine.
I would like to confirm that sugar is not added to our cooked chickens for flavour; the quantity used is too small to add flavour. It is actually added for colour; in cooking the sugar caramelises to the characteristic golden brown colour which our customers prefer. We have carried out trials without this colour, but our customers said that they wanted to see our chickens with the typical golden colouring.
With regards to salt, in the last 10 years we have halved the amount of salt that we use across our products. Out of the 15 Food Standard Agency's 2010 salt targets that are recognised as contributing high levels of salt to the diet, we now meet 11. A small quantity of salt is added to our cooked chicken to enhance and maintain its flavour through shelf life, so that our customers are always guaranteed a great tasting product. The small amount of salt that we add is based on the view from independent taste panels.
We are constantly looking at new ways to make it easier for our customers to lead healthier lives, and we also need to ensure that we balance this with creating products that are enjoyable for our customers to eat.
I do hope the above has helped to reassure you of how seriously we have taken your concerns and I would like to thank you again for taking the time to get in touch.
Executive Chairman's Office
It was great to get the brown sugar mystery solved and heartening to learn that my removal of the skin probably was removing most of the sugar. I would question the statement ‘the quantity used is too small to add flavour’ because I believe the palate of someone not normally accustomed to eating food with added sugar and salt would be able to detect the amount of sugar needed to create a criminalization effect. I am pretty sure I could detect the residual sugar when I last ate M&S chicken.
I am pleased by M&S’ efforts to eliminate food additives from their foods, but not impressed. Were I to see the two most pernicious additives – trans-fats and high fructose corn syrup - on their list of triumphs, then I would be. In fact to impress me it would be enough for them to say they are seriously thinking about these additives.
I also like their approach, implied by one of their letters in the previous post, of leading customer tastes rather than being led by them. Conceptually, this means they are selling us things that taste how they ought to taste rather than how we want them to taste. Presumably until a certain point they had been working the other way around which is why their foods had so much salt added in the first place. In an environment where foods have tastes we were never exposed to when evolving, leaving it up to us to decide how we want food to taste seems like a bad idea.
In spite of these points in M&S’ favour, it does not detract from what is now becoming a conspicuous inability to answer the central question. So, once again, I present an open letter to M&S, this time to the Executive Chairman’s Office.
Dear Mr Rogers,
Many thanks for your response to my open letter.
I am grateful to you for clarifying the purpose for the use of sugar in your cooked chicken and pleased to hear further evidence that Marks and Spencer takes seriously the issue of food additives. Whilst I remain sceptical about the justification for using sugar in this way and whether it would affect the taste, I would prefer to focus on the question of salt.
The fact that you have so diligently attended to the question of sugar and given so comprehensive a roll call of M&S’ achievements makes me especially perplexed by your failure to answer my central question. This is the same question your colleague appeared unwilling to address in my correspondence with her.
To restate this question, I hope for the last time, why you do not allow consumers to add salt themselves according to their own taste? Why not sell plain, roasted chicken, stating clearly on the packet that seasoning should be added to taste? You could even include a sachet of salt with the chicken so that customers’ convenience would not be compromised.
The benefits would be:
- Your target market would now include all chicken-eaters instead of only people whose tastes correspond to your independent panel. You would regain me as a customer, for a start
- You would be able to market the product as having no added salt
- Your goal of positively influencing consumers would be furthered because they would at least get a chance to discover what plain chicken actually tastes like
Why is there Sugar in my Chicken (Part 1)
Marks and Spencer Chicken - They Respond Once More(Part 3)
Marks and Spencer Chicken - the Final Word (Part 4)
We're all Junkies
Why (Refined) Sugar is Bad: Some References