As part of investigating quality differences for similar products among European countries, the Commission has published a study which compared products in terms of composition and their presentation.
A number of countries claimed that food producers consistently marketed different (read: lower) quality foods in a number of European Union countries. Although food safety standards are harmonized in the European Union, the quality of food is less clearly regulated. Only for a limited number of foods compositional criteria apply or quality schemes may apply (e.g. geographical indications). The consideration has been made that these acts could be potentially be viewed as unfair commercial practices by inducing consumers to believe a product has similar characteristics on the basis of analogous branding while in reality the composition differs. The misleading character of such act will depend on the circumstances as compositional differences can also relate to legitimate and objective factors. Such may be adaption to local consumer preferences, reformulations in line with local nutritional recommendations or variability in raw material supplies.
Following the allegations, the Commission allocated resources to investigate the matter. The recent report on the testing of 1380 products of 128 different food products from 19 different member states is one of these initiatives. The study concludes that for the studied products there is no consistent geographical differentiation. In addition, in the cases a compositional difference is found it does not necessarily imply a difference in the products’ quality. Only for 9% of the evaluated products a difference in composition was found where the front of pack was identical. A much larger fraction of products (31%) having a identical or similar front of pack showed to have an identical composition.
As it is realized, the 1380 only represent a small fraction of products, therefore testing and evaluation will continue with the same methodology.
Joint Research Centre: Results of an EU wide comparison of quality related characteristics of food products - link