ConsumerTalk with Wendy Knowler

'Fake cheese' on the menu? Wendy Knowler talks dairy product dupes

How sure are you that the Mozzarella on your pizza is the real deal?

Consumer journalist Wendy Knowler says economic pressures on the dairy industry have driven costs up and affected production.

This has also given rise to a compromise in quality and emergence of dairy "substitutes".

Read: Restaurants can be held liable if they don't disclose food allergens on menus

A manufacturer in KZN is producing a cheese called Capri Mozzarella, a grated blend of 50% dairy mozzarella and 50% imitation cheese.

Imitation cheese is made with vegetable fat, namely palm and coconut, Knowler explains.

eThekwini Cheese supplies it to distributors who sell it to pizza outlets. There are concerns that customers are not told about this semi-cheese and its contents.

Mozzarella makes up 60% of the cost of pizza. There's a big temptation to cut some corners on the most expensive ingredient.

Wendy Knowler, consumer journalist

It's about disclosure. We need to know what we are ordering, what we are paying for and what we are eating. We have the right to know.

Wendy Knowler, consumer journalist

Pizza Hut, Debonairs Pizza, Buon Gusto, Domino's, Col’Cacchio and Butler's Pizza all deny using any imitation cheese.

Other dairy products

Knowler also notes that in April 2013 a 500g brick of Crystal Valley butter, Shoprite’s private label, was R23.

Five years later and 500g of Crystal Valley butter costs R50. It’s become Easy-Spread Modified Butter - which means less than half of it is butterfat.

In five years, we're paying for more than double the price for less then half the butter.

Wendy Knowler, consumer journalist

Also read: Freedom Bakery faces heat over food fraud allegations

According to Knowler, a host of butter “modified” with vegetable oil products have sprung up in the past year.

She adds that most ice-cream in supermarket fridges don't contain cream at all. Even some yoghurts are now being described as "yoghurt based dairy snacks" because of change in contents.

It is dairy, but it's a concoction of water, milk powder and vegetable fat. They might create some creaminess, but it's not coming from cream.

Wendy Knowler, consumer journalist

Manufacturers have to disclose the ingredients and label products in accordance to SA food legislation, she argues.

As long as it's declared on the label, it's fine.

Wendy Knowler, consumer journalist

Messing with Mozerralla is happening in quite a few markets.

Wendy Knowler, consumer journalist

Knowler explores the rise of imitation cheese and discusses the legalities.

Visit our Consumer Talk feature for more consumer-related stories.

Take a listen to the discussion during Consumer Talk:

Got a consumer case you need help resolving?

Email: consumer@knowler.co.za, put Cape Talk in the subject line, followed by the issue e.g. cellphone contract dispute.


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