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Kind, the maker of the popular nut bars, filed a petition Wednesday asking the Food and Drug Administration to change how it regulates claims on food labels.
The petition is the latest development in the battle over food labeling. In the FDA's 2018 roadmap under outgoing Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, the regulator said that it wants to help consumers make more informed dietary decisions. For example, the agency is weighing changes to how plant-based dairy substitutes can use dairy terms after milk producers and others in the industry complained that shoppers were confused.
Nearly half of consumers are buying more healthy food now compared to a year ago, according to Mintel data. As more Americans shop for foods that are healthy, more brands look to cash in by marketing their products as healthy and nutritious — including Kind.
This isn't the first time that Kind has filed a petition for the agency to reconsider how it regulates food labeling. Back in 2015, the FDA requested that Kind stop using "healthy" on its website and several of its wrappers because those products exceeded the maximum amount of total fat or saturated fat allowed to make that claim.
While Kind initially complied with the request, it maintained that its use of the word was not a nutrition content claim and filed a petition asking that the agency take another look at its framework. Because Kind bars contain almonds and other nuts, which are high in healthy fats, the brand argued that the agency's rules were outdated.
More than a year after sending the warning letter, the FDA reversed its position, although it still has not finalized new guidelines for using "healthy" on food labels.
Now a few years later and with an investment from Snickers-owner Mars under its belt, Kind is asking the FDA to implement more sweeping changes. It wants the agency to update the rules regulating what brands can tout on their wrapper like "good source of calcium" or "low sodium," known in the industry as nutrient content claims.
If the FDA agrees with Kind, snacks from its Big Food competitors could see changes to their labels. Foods deemed unhealthy overall, like sugary flavored waters or high-sodium snacks, would not be allowed to make any nutrient content claims on its labels.
"It shouldn't be masquerading as healthy when it's really just an empty calorie, Frankenstein-type food," Kind's founder and CEO Daniel Lubetzky told CNBC.
Unhealthy foods would also be required to disclose high amounts of added sugars, saturated fat or sodium on the front of their packaging.
Lutbetzky said that the company isn't anticipating any public pushback from rivals because it is meant to help consumers.
"But maybe behind the scenes, people are trying to slow it down or kill it," he said.