Chocolate makers eat their words on king-size snacks

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The Independent Online

Chocolate manufacturers have been accused of failing to meet a commitment to scrap king-size bars, because they are still on sale 15 months after they promised to phase them out.

Giant versions of popular brands including Mars and Snickers are selling in millions despite the obesity of a quarter of all adults and a third of all children aged between two and 10.

The pledge was made after an alarming report from the Commons Health Select Committee. In May 2004, MPs on the cross-party committee warned that calorie-packed super-size portions were contributing to the £3.7bn-a-year bill for obesity, and urged the Government to "publicly name and shame" companies that failed to act. They cited the example of one king-size Snickers bar that had more calories than a dinner of sirloin steak, potatoes and broccoli.

Four months later, in September 2004, the Food and Drink Federation, which represents the snack manufacturers, launched its Manifesto for Food and Health, outlining how firms would cut salt and fat and rethink portions. And the chocolate-maker Cadbury Trebor Bassett said it would "discontinue the king-size nomenclature". Five months later, Cadbury began withdrawing king-size 85g versions of bars such as Boost and Dairy Milk.

But it swiftly introduced three large versions of Dairy Milk, the best-selling bar in Britain with £317m sales. They are called "8 Chunk", have 400 calories and weigh 75g, which is 50 per cent more than a standard bar.

In September 2004, another manufacturer, Masterfoods, announced it would phase out king-size Mars and Snickers in 2005 and replace them with "shareable" bars. But Mars and Snickers are still on sale with use-by dates of August 2006, although they are now branded "The Big One". Sales of Mars and Snickers last year were £147m. A "King-size" Twix is also still being sold.

Masterfoods said that this month it would re-launch king-size bars with a breakable middle, allowing them to be shared. The company insists it is delivering on its commitment because the new Duo range "allows consumers to save or share half of the bar if they want". Cadbury says its "8 Chunk" Dairy Milks may be split and saved for consumption later. "I think we have fulfilled our promise," a spokesman said.

But David Haslam, the clinical director of the National Obesity Forum, said: "It's disturbing because they got all the publicity coming to them when they said, 'We're going to get rid of these bars', and by keeping them or introducing new ones they are not doing what they said. They ought to be taking a more responsible attitude to their public." Obese people, those with a body mass index over 30, are more likely to develop diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, cancers, gallstones, insomnia, stress, anxiety and depression.

Nutritionists say king-size bars containing up to 500 calories - a quarter of a woman's daily requirement - are eaten as well as meals. They are far less filling, so people overeat.

Campaigners agree obesity is caused by many factors including lack of exercise, but they say the food industry should discourage gluttony. The National Consumer Council said: "One in four of UK adults is obese, and some manufacturers are not living up to their promises to phase out king-size chocolate bars to help tackle the problem. At 400 calories a go - much of those empty calories - burning up a king-size Mars bar would take a five-mile run."

The NCC said it would like to know of research by chocolate-makers suggesting people would share breakable king-size bars. A spokeswoman said: "They are nodding to the criticism that larger bars encourage people to eat more than they might otherwise but they are not acting in the true spirit to encourage people not to overeat."

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