WASHINGTON, April 15 (UPI) -- Mars Food, which makes some of the most popular rices, candy bars and jarred sauces, among other foods, has announced plans to improve the nutritional content of their products and add labels warning about health dangers from consuming too much of the less healthy products.
Mars plans to add enhanced labels to its foods containing additional nutritional information and warnings that "occasional" foods should be eaten once a week or less, or emphasizing greater health value of "everyday" foods, according to a press release from the company.
In addition to expanding information about its foods, and in some cases working to make them healthier, the company endorsed government efforts in Britain and the United States to reduce the amount of salt people consume.
The company said its goal is to help consumers choose between more healthy "everyday" foods and less healthy "occasional" foods. Offering guidance on products high in salt, added sugar or fat "not intended to be eaten daily" is part of the company's Health and Wellbeing Ambition.
"It's the right time to engage in the debate," Fiona Dawson, global president for the company's Mars Food division, told Bloomberg. "We see the industry moving really well when we have voluntary guidelines."
The five-year plan starts with updating their website to include the information that will eventually be added to labels, following research on the most effective messages.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has become more active at spotlighting the healthiest levels of salt and sugar people should consume, lowering suggested levels of both in recent revisions to dietary guidelines and requiring additional information on food labels.
Mars is smart to be cautious on the labels it uses, especially if it is looking for people to pay attention. Although healthy people already inspect labels, getting the attention of people who don't read them is more difficult. Similar efforts such as adding calorie charts to fast food restaurant menus or printing graphic pictures on the sides of cigarette boxes have been largely ignored by consumers, if they're not offended by them.
Among the brands that will get labels first -- Masterfoods, Dolmio and Uncle Ben's -- only Uncle Ben's, a popular brand of rice, is sold in the United States, the Washington Post reported, though the plan is for all of Mars' products to have the labels.
Mars plans for 95 percent of its products to be healthy enough to qualify as "everyday" foods, starting with reduction of salt content based on international guidelines that are not yet requirements.
Dawson said the company is positioning itself as ahead of the curve on making its foods healthier, and is serious enough about the initiative to start by looking in the mirror.
"Cooking and eating healthy meals at home is central to health and wellbeing, and we believe our brands should inspire our consumers to come together over a healthy meal," said Dawson. "Mars Food will practice what we preach by starting with our own associates and helping them make informed, healthier food choices and cook meals together at our sites."